At the end of January 2012, the investigative magistrate looking into human rights charges against Haiti's ousted dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, came to the decision that “the statute of limitations had run out” on those human rights abuses – but apparently not on Duvalier's misappropriation of public funds.
Haitians, both on the island and throughout the diaspora, have had to watch as the greater charges against the formerly feared dictator fall away and he heads to court for what may turn out to be a slap on the wrist for financial impropriety. Amnesty International, which presented evidence of the human rights violations committed under Jean-Claude Duvalier's reign, cried foul over the verdict. Bloggers were as equally unforgiving.
One of the most riveting accounts of Haitians’ reaction to the Duvalier decision has been on flickr, where in a photoset entitled “Protesting Duvalier Decision”, Etant Dupain told the story in photos – and added some informed commentary that gives valuable context to the situation:
On February 7, 2012 dozens of Haitians gathered in front of the Ministry of Justice in a demonstration organized by several civil society organizations to call for justice in the case of Jean-Claude Duvalier. After thirty years of the dictatorial rule of the Duvalier family, an era marked by oppression, massive human rights abuses, murders, disappearances and total violation of Haitians’ fundamental human rights, a popular rebellion forced J.C. Duvalier to flee to country on February 7, 1987 – 25 years ago. Last week a judge made the controversial decision to not prosecute Duvalier for his crimes against humanity. This decision is now in an appeals process in Haiti and under scrutiny from human rights organizations and the international community.
HAITI Land of Freedom saw the judge's decision as a blatant denial of Duvalier's crimes against humanity, and noted that:
Human rights groups criticized the decision and qualified it as unfair and politically motivated.
The blogger also drew attention to the fact that:
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay was disappointed after learning about the decision. Pillay asked the Haitian officials to guarantee that the former dictator is prosecuted for international crimes.
This report [fr] from Haiti Press Network, gave a clearer idea of the impact that those crimes have had on the Haitian people:
Nous les survivants et survivantes de la dictature Duvalier qui avons payé très cher ce droit collectif à la liberté d’expression et d’association, dont nous jouissons tous aujourd’hui. Nous qui nous sommes trop longtemps tus, voulant oublier des blessures, complices involontaires de l’impunité, nous disons aujourd’hui c’est assez, lit-on dans un document distribué à la presse.
Juger Duvalier et ses sbires, poursuit-on, pour les meurtres, les tortures et les exécutions commis alors qu’il était chef suprême du pays, de son armée et de ses milices, est la seule garantie que demain, ces libertés et nos droits fondamentaux seront respectés par ceux qui prétendent nous gouverner.
We, the survivors of the dictatorship of Duvalier, who have paid a very high price for this collective right to freedom of expression and association which we enjoy today. We who, too many times, stay silent trying to forget the injuries, involuntary accomplices of impunity, today we say stop [...]
Judging Duvalier and his henchmen for the murders, the tortures and the executions committed when he was the supreme chief of the country, of its army and of its soldiers, is the unique guarantee that tomorrow this freedom and our rights will be respected by those who pretend to govern us.
The decision has stirred up such controversy that there's even an open Facebook discussion group [fr] about it, called “Justice pour les victimes de Jean Claude Duvalier” (“Justice for the victims of Jean-Claude Duvalier”). Twitter was also an active discussion forum; some people showed the virtual middle finger to the former dictator, while others questioned the level of accountability in Haiti.
Interestingly, @RPrestonT tweeted:
Of course, the former dictator has also been tweeting his perspective, here.
Diaspora blogger Elsie was upset over the decision [fr]:
Soit exactement 26 ans que le peuple haïtien se démène tout seul pour se libérer de la politique indigne, violente et méprisable de l'extrême-droite et des duvaliéiristes.
She also posted a video that shows…
Des militaires qui se mettent gratuitement à donner des coups de baton, à une femme habillée en blanc. Une femme sans défense dont le seul tort est de marcher dans la rue à ce moment là.
…prompting her to ask:
Qui a dit que le crime ne payait pas?
Elsie also wrote a post [cr] questioning the Martelly/Duvalier connection:
Ayisyen aletranje mèt pare kor yo pou yo pran plis bafl pi devan si yo pa fè makaj sere sou tandem Sweet Michey-Baby Doc sa a…komanse poze tèt nou si se pa Jean-Claude Duvalier k'ap dirije Ayiti par lentèmedyè Sweet Mickey.
about the tandem Sweet Mickey-Baby Doc…let us start by asking ourselves if it is not Jean-Claude Duvalier who is governing Haiti through Sweet Mickey.
Dying in Haiti published a post by Amy Wilentz that also examined those political links…
Since his return in 2011 from a 25-year exile, Mr. Duvalier — Baby Doc — has managed to insert himself into semi-polite society, even finagling a seat near the new president, Michel Martelly, at the memorial ceremony for the victims of the 2010 earthquake. The president has filled many positions in his government with former Duvalier officials and their relatives. In short, he is rehabilitating Mr. Duvalier — and along with him, the extrajudicial code he and his father, François Duvalier, governed by. Last month, Mr. Martelly proposed a blanket pardon of Baby Doc — who has been accused of corruption and human rights abuses — telling The Associated Press, ‘I do believe that we need that reconciliation in Haiti.’
…and drew the conclusion that:
Mr. Duvalier must be prosecuted for his crimes against humanity. If they are dismissed, it will send a cheering message to past and future perpetrators of similar abuses. If he is tried and convicted, those who have relied upon impunity will know that they, too, risk a turn in the dock.
In the midst of all this legal uncertainly, one thing is for sure: bloggers will continue to keep a close eye on the appeals that are sure to follow this controversial verdict.