Petitioners: State of Haiti, Alix Fils Aimé, Michéle Montas

Respondent State: Haiti

Topics: Most serious crimes under International Criminal Law, Access to Justice, Judicial Guarantees

“The memory of the victims means that truth can be reconstructed,” said Commissioner Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero at the March 28, 2011 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearing on impunity for human rights violations during the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier in Haiti. The Commissioner commended the Petitioners for keeping the memory of Haitian victims of the Duvalier regime alive. Commission President Dinah Shelton presided over the meeting and Jesús Orozco Henríquez was also present.

Petitioners Michéle Montas, a representative of victims who filed complaints against Duvalier, and Alix Fils Aimé, a supporter of Haitian organizations defending the freedom of the complainants, discussed Duvalier’s continued impunity for the human rights violations alleged to have occurred during his regime. Representatives from the State of Haiti were also present.

Duvalier replaced his father, François Duvalier as the President of Haiti in 1971, maintaining power until overthrown by a popular uprising in 1986. Duvalier’s regime was notorious for violating the human rights of Haitian citizens. The Petitioners described some of these alleged violations, including torture, human trafficking, and murder. On January 16, 2011, after nearly 25 years of exile in France, Duvalier returned to Haiti. The Haitian government arrested Duvalier on January 18, 2011, and charged him with a number of offenses, including crimes against humanity.

During the hearing, Petitioners and Respondents agreed that Duvalier should be brought to justice for the egregious human rights violations he is alleged to have committed. The Petitioners noted that a corrupt judiciary following the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship led to impunity for Duvalier. The Petitioners requested the attention of the Commission to find a means of giving technical support to Haiti as well as making an on-site visit in the hopes of sending a clear signal, “that this effort must be continued and that this time impunity must not succeed.”

Respondents agreed with the Petitioners regarding Duvalier’s crimes, acknowledging that he should be brought to justice because “conviction of Duvalier [sends] a message to humanity and to all dictators . . . [that] if you use your power to kill and torture and dehumanize people the law will not disregard this—there will be punishment.” Nevertheless, the State noted that the Haitian judiciary lacks the resources to effectively convict Duvalier for his crimes because it lacks basic forensic tools necessary for fingerprinting or for thorough autopsy. The State also recognized that the prevalence of corruption and the inaccessibility of the courts to citizens makes the promotion of justice within Haiti difficult.

Commission President Shelton noted that the Commission has plans to visit Haiti in the summer, and reiterated that the Commission is “willing to do anything to assist with this situation.” She also asked both parties whether they considered bringing charges against members of the Duvalier regime – a question that Commissioner Orozco echoed. Both parties answered affirmatively, although Haiti’s representatives noted that the shortcomings of Haiti’s judiciary as create a serious obstacle for domestic prosecution.

Listen to the hearing below. Escucha en español.