Dear Madam Secretary,
We write to urge the United States to support the government of Haiti in its decision to move forward with the prosecution of the former dictator Jean‑Claude Duvalier for grave violations of human rights.
As you know, during Duvalier's time in power, serious and systematic violations of human rights took place, including arbitrary arrests, torture, "disappearances" and extra-judicial executions. "Tonton Macoutes" and Section Chiefs terrorized the population. Hundreds of prisoners died of disease and starvation in the notorious Fort Dimanche prison.
The challenges to the prosecution are enormous. In particular, the judicial system's capacity to investigate and prosecute mass crimes committed between 25 and 40 years ago is very weak. A fair trial for Jean‑Claude Duvalier, however, one in which the voices of Duvalier's victims are heard and in which Duvalier's lawyers present a robust defense, could kick-start legal reform efforts in Haiti. It could help restore Haitians' faith in a justice system that has almost always shielded the perpetrators of the worst atrocities. And it could provide a civics lesson in one of the darkest periods of Haitian history.
If, on the contrary, the prosecution fails for lack of capacity or political support, the message will go out again that there is no justice in Haiti, even for the worst crimes. The global fight against impunity for the worst crimes will suffer a serious setback.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has offered the authorities in Haiti technical assistance towards the prosecution of crimes committed under the leadership of Jean-Claude Duvalier. She noted that "Haiti has an obligation to investigate the well-documented serious human rights violations that occurred during the rule of Mr. Duvalier, and to prosecute those responsible for them."
State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley, said that what happens to Duvalier is "a matter for the Government of Haiti and the people of Haiti." Now that the government of Haiti has chosen to meet its international obligation, the United States should join the High Commissioner and others by:
- Voicing its support for the Haitian government's decision to investigate and prosecute the crimes of the Duvalier era;
- Offering technical assistance to the government of Haiti; and
- Providing the authorities with any evidence it has on the crimes of the Duvalier era, including records of discussions between U.S. authorities and Jean-Claude Duvalier regarding human rights abuses.
We would be pleased to discuss these issues with you.
José Miguel Vivanco
CC: Harold Hongju Koh, Legal Adviser; Arturo Valenzuela, Assistant Secretary, Western Hemisphere Affairs; Michael H. Posner, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor; Stephen J. Rapp, Ambassador-at-Large, War Crimes Issues