The U.S. Holds the Key to Duvalier Prosecution


I am in the courtroom for a hearing on the cases charging that Jean-Claude Duvalier committed massive human rights violations during his tenure as Haiti’s president from 1971 to 1986. The courtroom is mobbed—black-robed lawyers, TV cameramen shining lights straight onto the panel of judges, and viktims of Duvalier’s murderous regime all jostle for space. It is a big day. After ignoring multiple orders to appear in court, the former President-for-Life has finally shown up to answer questions.

Body heat and a distinct lack of ventilation have made the courtroom a virtual sauna. One Haitian journalist emerges from the scrum after an hour, soaking wet and shaking his head. “It is hell in there,” he says in Creole.

“Duvalier is in there,” someone replies. “What did you expect? Paradise?”

But even with this overflow crowd, several important people are missing. Namely, where is Michael Posner?

My guess is that he wants to be here. Posner did important Haiti human rights work as far back as the 1980’s for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, now Human Rights First. Harold Koh probably would like to be in this courtroom, too. He had a book written about his groundbreaking legal advocacy for the rights of Haitian refugees. I scan the crowd unsuccessfully looking for Stephen Rapp, who made his career prosecuting brutal leaders like Duvalier.

Posner is now the Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Democracy Human Rights, and Labor. Koh recently completed a tenure as Legal Adviser for the U.S. State Department. Rapp heads the State Department’s Office of Global Criminal Justice. These titles and their impressive resumes suggest they should be on the front lines pushing for Duvalier prosecution. It is a human rights Dream Team, all together working for the United States now. But they are sitting this one out.

Instead, the U.S. is represented today by just one embassy official, who does not participate in the hearing and does not want to speak for the record. Duvalier’s presence is encouraging, too, even though he took the occasion to claim the government officials who killed and oppressed in his name “had their own authority” separate from his own.

But let’s not get carried away. In virtually any other country in the world, someone like Duvalier would have been behind bars long ago. Instead, he hobnobs with the country’s president and world leaders—Bill Clinton shook his hand at an official event a few months ago—and dines in exclusive restaurants. President Michel Martelly’s government recently renewed Duvalier’s diplomatic passport. A lower court has thrown out the human rights allegations against him, ruling that only corruption charges can go forward. Today, on behalf of the thousands of Haitians who were tortured, imprisoned, and killed for the crime of daring to oppose Duvalier’s political dominance, Haiti’s leading human rights attorney, Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, argues that the charges should be reinstated.

The international human rights community is squarely on the side of Joseph and the Duvalier victims. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International insist that prosecution of Duvalier is absolutely necessary to reverse Haiti’s legacy of impunity for the powerful. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights points out that Duvalier’s procedural argument, that the statute of limitations has expired for his crimes against humanity, is refuted by well-settled international law. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says the Haitian courts need to ensure the Duvalier victims “are provided with the long overdue justice they deserve.”

But Michael Posner’s voice is not heard. Nor is the government he represents.

I don’t know why. I do know that the official explanation does not ring true. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. would leave the Duvalier prosecution decision to the government and people of Haiti. This laissez-faire approach to Haitian affairs is not consistent with the reality of the U.S. role here, from full military occupation in the early 20th century to the millions of dollars in economic and military support for a series of violent dictators that followed. As recently as 2011, Secretary of State Clinton successfully pushed the Haitian government to include current president Martelly as a candidate in the run-off election that led to his victory.

Nor does this hands-off approach align with recent U.S. full-throated advocacy for prosecution of human rights criminals like Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic, among many others. Perhaps the U.S. reluctance to push for a Duvalier prosecution is truly motivated by a desire for Haitian “stability,” as the Secretary Clinton claimed. Or maybe the Obama administration hopes to conceal embarrassing details of the long U.S. support for Duvalier’s murderous regime, or simply wants to support the friendly regime of Martelly, who has suggested amnesty for Duvalier.

Whatever the reason for its absence, the U.S. voice for human rights and the rule of law is desperately needed in this courtroom. More so, it is needed in the offices of the Haitian government leaders who likely have more influence over the outcome than the judges presiding over this hearing. As Mario Joseph says, “A Duvalier process and trial would mean so much for Haiti. It will help people believe in the system of justice if they see a defendant held accountable who stole our country’s money and killed and imprisoned people.” The U.S. has enormous influence here, and most observers feel Duvalier will be held accountable for his crimes only if the U.S. speaks up.

So, please do it, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. Free Michael Posner.

Fran Quigley is clinical professor and director of the Health and Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University McKinney School of Law.

More articles by:

Fran Quigley is a professor at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, where he directs the Health and Human Rights Clinic. He is the author of How Human Rights Can Build Haiti (Vanderbilt University Press).

Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South