Haiti: Report calls for prosecution of rights abusers under Duvalier

Former Haitian president Jean-Claude Duvalier (R) arrives in court in Port-au-Prince on February 28, 2013, for a hearing to determine if he could be charged with crimes against humanity

Human rights organizations called Tuesday for the prosecution of human rights abusers during Haiti's brutal Duvalier dictatorship, saying time was running out to bring them to justice. In a report, The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) highlighted the urgency as only seven of 17 people accused of abuses are still alive. It also insisted that Jean-Claude Duvalier's death in 2014 did not spell the end of the fight for justice. Victims have testified about their experience of torture and arbitrary detention in court hearings in 2012 and 2013 -- but more than three decades after the end of the dictatorship, many have also died without seeing justice. The report said that even if media interest in the case diminished with Duvalier's death, it "must nevertheless continue to avoid the general impunity of the regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier." Nicknamed "Baby Doc," Jean-Claude Duvalier came to power at age 19, following the death of his father Francois Duvalier, known as "Papa Doc," in 1971. Driven from power in 1986 and exiled in France for 25 years, Jean-Claude Duvalier chose the first anniversary of the deadly 2010 earthquake to make an unexpected return to Haiti. Since February 2014, a judge has been in charge of the investigation -- but progress has been slow due to a lack of resources and political pressure. "The judge has little to work with because of the persistence of so-called Duvalierists within successive Haitian powers," the report said, adding that former president Michel Martelly had done little to hide his admiration for the former dictator. Prosecuting the perpetrators would demonstrate the importance of fighting impunity in Haitian society, it added. The report also said the Duvalier regime was by no means the last to commit human rights violations -- and called on authorities to guarantee the necessary resources and judicial independence to hold other perpetrators to account. "The current authorities have clearly signalled that justice and the rule of law are not among their priorities: this is evident in the fact that less than one percent of the budget is devoted to the justice department, and this is a matter of concern," said the FIDH's Delphine Carlens. Duvalier's financial crimes have also remained unaddressed, the report said. Jean-Luc Virchaux, the Swiss ambassador to Port-au-Prince, said that $6.25 million remained in the former dictator's Swiss bank accounts and no mechanism for repatriating the funds had yet been elaborated. Despite the report's calls for action, human rights activists remained pessimistic. "We don't hold out hope that the process will go anywhere," said Rosy Auguste of the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights. "That is why we are emphasizing sensitization, the need to remember. We will have to see if, in the long run, there is a chance to bring the case before the Inter-American Court for Human Rights and get them to condemn Haiti."