Haiti: Government urged to pursue human rights case against former dictator

Baby-Doc-Duvalier

International agencies put pressure on government to prosecute Duvalier; Electoral crisis continues; Musicians accuse Martelly of silencing dissent; Haitians detained whilst trying to illegally enter Puerto Rico

Baby-Doc-Duvalier

Duvalier must face justice

The Martelly administration in Haiti has been urged by international charities such as Amnesty International not to let former dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, escape prosecution for crimes against humanity.

Otherwise known as ‘Baby Doc,’ Duvalier became Haiti’s head of state in 1971 following the death of his father, Francois Duvalier. During their collective rule over Haiti, the Duvaliers are estimated to have killed and tortured up to 60,000 people through their paramilitary organisation, the ‘Tonton Macoutes’.

Although Duvalier returned to Haiti from exile in January 2011, he has yet to face the charges against him. Last week charities spoke out against what they perceive as impunity for the Haitian dictator and urged the Haitian government to pursue the case.

‘It is the whole credibility of the Haitian justice system which is at stake,’ said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.

Despite being under house arrest, Duvalier has been able to travel freely around the country since he arrived, even being granted a diplomatic passport in December 2012.

Amnesty International was particularly critical of the pronouncements of a Haitian judge, who stated that Duvalier would only be tried for the embezzlement of public funds and not human rights abuses, due to time limits in Haitian law.

‘International human rights standards are very clear in cases such as this. Crimes including torture, executions, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances are not subject to a statute of limitations and the alleged perpetrators cannot benefit from pardons or amnesties,’ added Zuniga.

The former dictator was due to appear in Port-au-Prince’s appeals court on Thursday but did not attend at the last minute. He has also failed to attend a previous court hearing on January 31st.

Citing correspondence between Duvalier’s lawyers and the president of the appeals court, Haitian news site, Radio Metropole, said that Duvalier’s lawyers had argued that the dictator could face physical attacks if he attended Thursday’s hearing, which coincided with the 27th anniversary of his flight from the country in 1986.

He is now due to appear before the court on February 21st.

Electoral Council crisis continues

Haiti’s struggle to establish a Permanent Electoral Council (CEP) as outlined in the constitution continues this week, with the Haitian Senate issuing an ultimatum to the Chamber of Deputies which gave the body just 24 hours to elect 4 deputies to a ‘bicameral commission’.

The bicameral commission will be in charge of designating the remaining 3 members of the CEP, a necessary step before the government can hold its long overdue local, municipal and mid-term legislative elections.

Although the elections were due to take place at the end of 2011, the lack of a fully functioning CEP has meant that the elections have not taken place.

Whilst the head of the Chamber of Deputies dismissed the ultimatum, pressure is mounting on the Martelly government to set a date for elections. On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to Port-au-Prince, Pamela White, stated that the U.S. government was willing to donate US$15 million towards the elections, stating that the Obama administration ‘naturally wants these elections to be held this year’.

Last month, the United Nations also urged Haiti to hold the elections “as soon as possible”.

Musicians silenced

Several musicians have accused the Martelly government of trying to silence dissent this week, alleging that the president had prevented them from appearing at a concert to celebrate the country’s annual carnival which leads up to Mardi Gras.

According to the bands, they were ‘disinvited’ from carnival celebrations, with several claiming that the move is politically motivated due to the critical nature of their songs.

The government maintains that bands were selected at random for the carnival performances.

Haitians detained

Over 20 Haitians were detained by US officials this week after they were caught trying to illegally enter Puerto Rico via boat. According to US officials, the boat containing 33 people was carrying both Haitian and Cuban citizens.

Jamaican officials also reported that they had detained 25 Haitians on Tuesday after their boat accidentally moored on the north-east coast of Jamaica. The authorities stated that the Haitians were trying to make their way to the United States before their boat steered off course.