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Haiti: France Should Support the Haitian Government's Prosecution of Jean-Claude Duvalier

Human Rights Watch's Letter to French Foreign Minister Recommends Steps to Assist Efforts to Prosecute Duvalier

Translation of Human Rights Watch's letter to Alain Juppé:

The Honorable Alain Juppé
Minister of Foreign and European Affairs
37, Quai d'Orsay
75007 Paris

Paris, March 2, 2011

RE: Assisting the Haitian government's prosecution of Jean-Claude Duvalier

Dear Mr. Juppé,

We write to urge France 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." 

Now that the government of Haiti has chosen to meet its international obligation, France 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 French authorities and Jean-Claude Duvalier regarding human rights abuses.

We have just visited Haiti, where we met with the First Counselor and First Secretary of the French Embassy, and would be pleased to discuss these issues with you.

Thank you in advance for your attention.

Yours truly,

Jean-Marie Fardeau
France Director
Human Rights Watch

Reed Brody
Human Rights Watch

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