Haiti, Amnesty International and the politics of impunity over human rights crimes

Foreign powers are the principal beneficiaries of impunity for human rights crimes in Haiti

The following is a letter to the editors of the Ottawa Citizen:
Vancouver BC
October 2, 2011

To: Mr. Gerry Nott, Publisher and Editor in Chief, Ottawa Citizen
Mr. Peter Robb, Deputy Editor, News, Ottawa Citizen

Dear Mr. Nott, Mr. Robb,

The call by Amnesty International Canada's Alex Neve and co-author Andrew Thompson for prosecution of former Haitian tyrant Jean-Claude Duvalier in your edition of September 26 (reproduced below) is timely and welcome. We would like to add here a few critical thoughts and observations on the Canadian government’s role and responsibilities in Haiti that will help to set a fuller context.

Mr. Neve and Mr. Thompson write that Canada should press the current president Michel Martelly to "get down to the business of justice" by ending the standoff between himself and the country’s other elected institutions and proceeding with a prosecution of Mr. Duvalier. A little explanation is in order.

Martelly's constitutional role is to facilitate the formation of a government by nominating a prime minister. The nominee must be acceptable to Haiti's elected House of Representatives (Chambre des députés) and Senate, so a degree of tact and compromise on the part of the president is required. It is the successful nominee for prime minister who then forms a government.

The current standoff results from Martelly’s wish to have a fellow, right-wing ideologue accepted as prime minister. Thankfully, the House and Senate have refused to rubber stamp his first two nominations—businessman Daniel Gerard Rouzier and disgraced former chief cop of Haiti under the illegal coup d’etat regime of 2004-06, Bernard Gousse.[1]

Neve and Thompson write that Canada should pressure Martelly to get on with the nomination process. They are correct in so urging. But words of caution are called for.

Canada, the U.S. and Europe are part of the problem here because they bankrolled the exclusionary election process that brought Martelly to power six months ago. It is not surprising that Martelly would show no interest in the Duvalier prosecution because he is an associate of those with close ties to the former tyrant’s regime. He has surrounded himself with advisers who were ministers or other functionaries in and around the regime. Martelly was a vigorous supporter of the overthrow of elected government in 2004.[2]

What’s more, Canada has already refused an explicit call to assist the Haitian judicial system to prosecute Duvalier. It came in the form of a presentation to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development of the Canadian Parliament in early March 2011 by René Magloire, special advisor on legal issues to then-President René Préval.[3]

It now appears that the U.S., at least, is smarting under the international condemnation of the dysfunction of the Martelly presidency that is has so vigorously supported. Earlier this month, it stepped in to impose the nomination for prime minister of a Haitian-born but foreign-residing assistant to Bill Clinton named Garry Conille.[4]The House has accepted the new nominee in a unanimous vote; a vote in the Senate is still pending.

In arguing that Canada should step in and push Martelly in a certain political direction, Neve and Thompson pen an unfortunate and prejudicial choice of words. They write, “For too long, including during the terrifying Duvalier years, Haiti has suffered from a culture of impunity.”

Of which “Haiti” are they writing? Yes, the “Haiti” of the country’s economic elite has long enjoyed impunity in imposing extreme poverty and gross violations of human rights on their countrymen and countrywomen. Its ruthless rule has long enjoyed the backing or the acquiescence of the so-called democracies of the hemisphere and Europe.

The “Haiti” of the country’s poor majority, on the other hand, has always been deeply committed to democracy, the rule of law and accountability of political leaders. This Haiti rose up in 1986 in its millions to oust the Duvalier tyranny. Ever since, it has fought against great odds to move the country forward along a path of democracy, social justice and respect for human dignity.

Alas, that valiant struggle has been frustrated and betrayed every step of the way by the big countries that hypocritically claim to stand for human rights. In 2004, Canada, the U.S. and Europe joined in the overthrow of Haiti’s then elected and socially progressive government.

The overriding problem with human rights impunity in Haiti resides not within Haiti’s borders but within those countries that sponsor and organize coups, aid embargos and all kinds of other destructive intervention in Haiti’s internal affairs.

In Canada, members of Parliament and the Senate, all the major media outlets and an important part of the country’s international development community turn a blind eye to so much of what has gone wrong in Haiti. So who are the real perpetrators and beneficiaries of impunity in Haiti?

It is good that Amnesty International Canada is speaking out for democracy and human rights in Haiti. We hope to see more in the coming months. We urge it to direct more of its concerns towards ending the foreign intervention that is the fundamental reason for Haiti’s poverty and social underdevelopment. We urge it to join with us in seeing vocal and active advocates for social justice for Haiti among members of the Canadian Parliament and Senate.

Haiti is being run into the ground by an international intervention regime enjoying virtual impunity, for example in the case of the catastrophic introduction of cholera into the country by the Nepalese contingent of MINUSTAH. It now faces a new, grave threat in the form of a plan by Michel Martelly, apparently with the backing of the United States (and Canada?),[5] to revive a Haitian armed forces that was dissolved in 1995 by then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the immense satisfaction of most Haitian people. The country needs all the genuine international assistance it can get.

Roger Annis
Canada Haiti Action Network
778 858 5179

[1] http://www.canadahaitiaction.ca/content/martelly-proposes-gousse-pm-wik…
[2] http://www.canadahaitiaction.ca/content/profile-michel-martelly-written-1997and http://canadahaitiaction.ca/content/michel-
[3]  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2011/03/07/haiti-ottawa030…
[4] http://www.canadahaitiaction.ca/content/us-behest-gary-conille-appears-…


Haiti's former dictator must face justice

Frequent delays have cast doubt over whether former Haitian president Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier will pay for his crimes
By Andrew Thompson and Alex Neve, commentary published in the Ottawa Citizen, September 26, 2011 
Ultimately it is in everyone’s interest, not just Haitians, that justice be served. By their very nature, crimes against humanity are so heinous that they shock our collective global conscience.
Even measured against Haiti’s turbulent history, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s sudden and unexpected return to Haiti in January of this year, after 25 years in exile, was a particularly bizarre moment for the country. Rumours about his motivation and his sanity ran rampant. What we said at the time is that it was incumbent upon Haitian authorities — with active support from Canada and other countries — to ensure that he faces justice. A trial against Duvalier, while immensely challenging, could greatly assist efforts to rebuild and reform.
Few reports missed the cruel irony of the situation — that the man who was responsible for so much hardship during his 15-year rule insisted that he had come home to “show solidarity” with his fellow Haitians in their time of need as they continued to struggle in the aftermath of the devastating January 2010 earthquake. At the time, no one would have imagined that the former strong man of Haiti would be back in the country, facing charges of embezzlement and crimes against humanity. But sometimes life is stranger than fiction. For that is exactly what happened. Charges were laid. And it gave Haitians a sense of hope that they might finally see accountability for those years of terrible abuses.
But many months later, that hope is fading. The prosecution has become stalled, partly because there was no prosecutor in place for many weeks. As well, Haiti currently has no justice minister because of a standoff between the country’s new president, Michel Martelly and parliament. Meanwhile reports abound that Duvalier is enjoying the good life, attending music concerts and dining out. And just Friday, Duvalier’s lawyers attempted to break up a press conference in Port-au-Prince in which Amnesty researchers presented a new report detailing the systemic human rights violations that occurred during the former president’s time in office.

It is time for this to move ahead. Canada must press the Martelly government to get down to the business of justice. The human rights case against Duvalier is compelling. While in power from 1971 to 1986, the Duvalier regime was responsible for gross and systematic human rights violations that included executions, torture and forced disappearances.

For too long, including during the terrifying Duvalier years, Haiti has suffered from a culture of impunity. Trying Baby Doc will represent a major step forward, not only for the thousands of victims, but also for the country as a whole. It is long overdue. Haiti still struggles with the legacy of 29 years of abuses under Baby Doc and his father, and further serious human rights violations during 25 post-Duvalier years. The international community has both the obligation and an opportunity to assist Haiti with the effort to hold Baby Doc accountable for his crimes. And Haiti will need help. The January 2010 earthquake decimated a justice system that was already weak. A trial against Duvalier, while immensely challenging, could greatly assist efforts to rebuild and reform.

A trial would, of course, have the potential to be highly polarizing. The Martelly government will undoubtedly face considerable internal pressure, particularly from the country’s elites, to dismiss the charges. A strong showing of external support would go a long way toward bolstering the resolve of Haitian officials.

Help is needed in other ways as well. Much of the existing evidence against Duvalier resides not in Port-au-Prince, but around the world. Amnesty International has already handed over to Haitian authorities more than 100 documents from its archives that contain information about rights violations during this period. Governments, including Canada, should do so as well. They must do so even if the records contain incriminating information about their own relations with the regime.

Ultimately it is in everyone’s interest, not just Haitians, that justice be served. By their very nature, crimes against humanity are so heinous that they shock our collective global conscience.

A trial against Baby Doc would reverberate beyond Haiti’s borders. It would mark one more step forward in the struggle to dismantle the entrenched impunity that has protected legions of presidents and prime ministers who have orchestrated massive human rights violations while in power.

The list of cases in which there has been some effort to bring former leaders to justice is growing, including Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, the former Yugoslavia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Liberian Charles Taylor. But these examples are the exceptions that prove the rule. Most former leaders retire comfortably, and are never held to account. That perfectly describes the life Baby Doc led in France for the last quarter century.

Prosecuting Duvalier would further strengthen the critical international norm that no one is above the law when it comes to being held responsible for serious human rights violations. Just maybe, this will cause other former (and even current) heads of state to be a little more nervous about their own fates. The bottom line: the prosecution needs to commence.

Andrew Thompson is an adjunct assistant professor of political science and the program officer at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo. Alex Neve is the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada in Ottawa.