Jean-Claude Duvalier, known as “Baby Doc” ruled Haiti from 1971 to 1986. He took over when he was only 19 years old, after the death of his father, “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Baby Doc’s rule was characterized by widespread human rights abuses, including murder and torture, and massive corruption. The frightening Tonton Macoutes death squads, so notorious during Papa Doc’s rule, remained active. After a popular uprising overthrew Baby Doc in 1986, he fled to France, reportedly with millions of dollars. More information about Duvalier’s regime is available on the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti website.
In January 2011, “Baby Doc” Duvalier surprisingly returned to Haiti. WIthin days, he was charged with financial crimes, and an investigating judge purportedly examined his responsibility for human rights abuses. CCIJ’s Montreal Working Group, along with the International Centre for Comparative Criminology (ICCC) of the Université de Montréal, and the Committee Against Impunity and for Justice in Haiti assisted in this process by gathering testimonies of survivors of the Duvalier regime who are now living in Montreal.
On January 31, 2012, the investigating judge announced that Duvalier would stand trial for embezzlement but not for his involvement in crimes against humanity. This decision was taken even though the judge was presented with significant evidence of Duvalier’s role in human rights abuses. Survivors and victims’ families appealed the decision.After Duvalier refused to attend previous sessions before the Court of Appeal as he was required to do, the court threatened to arrest the former dictator. He finally made an appearance on February 28, 2013, and answered questions on torture, murders and other abuses committed during his regime. The U.S.-based Center for Justice and Accountability drafted an amicus curiae brief for the Court of Appeal arguing that there is no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity so the lower court was wrong to dismiss those charges. CCIJ, along with other human rights organizations from around the world, signed on to the amicus brief.
On February 20, 2014, the Port-au-Prince Court of Appeal overturned the dismissal and required that further investigation be conducted. The historic Court of Appeal decision acknowledged that crimes against humanity are part of Haitian domestic law, that they are not subject to any statute of limitations and that it is the responsibility of the State to conduct investigations and prosecution of these crimes. Duvalier died of a heart attack in October 2014 before the case could proceed to trial.
Haitian Court of Appeal judgment (English translation)
Amicus curiae brief signed by CCIJ (English translation)
BREAKING THE SILENCE: Haitian victims of Jean-Claude Duvalier must not opt for silence, By Jo-Anne Wemmers, Ph.D. Professor, École de criminologie, Université de Montréal and Chair of the Montreal Working Group, of the Canadian Centre for International Justice.