January 17, 2011

(New York) – Haiti should arrest and prosecute former dictator Jean‑Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier for grave violations of human rights, Human Rights Watch said today.

Duvalier returned to Haiti yesterday from France where he has lived in exile since 1986.

"Duvalier's return to Haiti should be for one purpose only: to face justice," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director of Human Rights Watch. "Under the presidency of Duvalier and his Tonton Macoutes, thousands were killed and tortured, and hundreds of thousands of Haitians fled into exile. His time to be held accountable is long overdue."

Jean‑Claude Duvalier was Haiti's "president for life" from 1971 to 1986, succeeding his father  François "Papa Doc" Duvalier.  The Duvaliers are estimated to have ordered the deaths of between twenty and thirty thousand Haitian civilians. The brutality of their government created the modern Haitian diaspora, driving hundreds of thousands of Haitians into exile in Canada, France, the United States, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere.

Official torture and murder were commonplace under both father and son, Human Rights Watch said. The Duvaliers stunted civil society with harsh repression of any signs of independence among political parties, trade unions, and the press.

The Duvaliers created multiple military and paramilitary institutions to impose their will on the civilian population and to avoid creating a single center of power outside the presidency, Human Rights Watch said. These included several units of the army: the Presidential Guard, the Casernes Dessalines, the "Léopards," and the military police. As a counterweight to the army, "Baby Doc" Duvalier created the paramilitary Volunteers for National Security, the so-called Tontons Macoutes, whose membership and power ultimately dwarfed that of the army.  At the local level, section chiefs exercised control and presided in often corrupt and violent fashion over each of Haiti's 565 rural sections.  Jean‑Claude Duvalier relied on the Tonton Macoutes and the other paramilitary institutions to enforce his will until he and his family fled Haiti on February 7, 1986, boarding a U.S. military plane on the first leg of their trip to comfortable exile in France.

Duvalier has never faced prosecution abroad. In September 1999, four Haitian torture victims filed complaints with a French prosecutor charging crimes against humanity. The prosecutor rejected the complaints, because France's 1994 law on crimes against humanity was not retroactive.

"Haiti has enough troubles without Duvalier," said Vivanco. "Duvalier's presence - unless he is immediately arrested- is a slap in the face to a people who have already suffered so much."