The decision by Haitian Supreme Court Magistrate Carves Jean to free former brutal and corrupt dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier of the need to face a mountain of charges relating to vicious murders and torture of tens of thousands of people during his reign (1971-1986) is stirring passions inside and outside the country. More than that, many are concerned that the decision of the Supreme Court magistrate is one that was directed by President Michel Martelly, although the President is saying that he and his government believe in the freedom of the courts. There is also the fear by many significant commentators on Haiti that freeing Mr Duvalier of facing the human brutality charges sends the wrong signal to the international community. Magistrate Jean justifies his decision to free Mr Duvalier of the allegations on the basis that the statute of limitations on the human rights charges has passed and so he could not be tried on that basis. However, it has been pointed out that Haiti is a member of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights under which there is no time limit on crimes against humanity.
What is more horrifying to many is that since returning home in early 2011, after living in splendid exile in Europe since 1986, Mr Duvalier has fallen in to an elitist lifestyle of fancy dinners at expensive restaurants and being invited to sit in the front row at official government functions as the guest of President Martelly. This is a man who although not as brutal as his father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, nevertheless used liberally the creation of his father, the Tonton Macoutes—a group of henchmen and enforcers—to slaughter those who would oppose him. The United Nations has expressed its shock and disgust with the decision of the Haitian courts to spare “Baby Doc” the need to answer the charges of what amounted to mass murder and torture of tens of thousands of people. The other note of concern must be if President Martelly had a hand in the decision of the Supreme Court magistrate to “forgive” Mr Duvalier of the human rights allegations, what will the courts do about the allegations of financial corruption of hundreds of millions of dollars? Will the courts also find those matters to be time bound? Will they languish in a court system that is far from being close to efficient and will those charges be eventually thrown out for one concocted reason or the other?
Haitian-American Professor of Political Science, Jean-Germain Gros, says the decision of the judge is a reminder of why Haiti has such a “terrible reputation internationally.” Unfortunately for President Martelly, however well-meaning he may be in wanting to close-off the past and move forward without conflict in Haiti, this absolution of a man of serious violation of human rights will not endear many parts of the international community to him and his government’s cause. He could therefore expect serious recriminations against his government, more so if it comes to be confirmed that he had something to do with the decision of Magistrate Jean. More than statements of displeasure, the act of freeing Baby Doc, a certified villain of human rights violations, could delay and possibly end financial and developmental assistance pledged by countries and the inter- national community for the rebuilding of Haiti. If such were to take place, President Martelly would only have himself to blame. But it will not end at the denial of assistance; sooner rather than later, the new Haitian President will attract allegations that he is of the same ilk as Mr Duvalier and certain instability will set in, as this has happened over decades in Haitian affairs. Maybe it is not too late for the situation to be retrieved.