Baby Doc, in the dock

The media swarm over the first anniversary of the Haiti earthquake had begun to quell, when in waltzed the former dictator who had made a run for it 25 years ago amid the fierce protests which finally put pay to his tyrannical rule. 

Correspondents from the BBC to NBC unpacked their bags anew, because this was going to make the headlines. No one had seen this coming.  

It was hard to decipher the cheering from the jeering as “Baby Doc”,  Haiti’s former leader Jean-Claude Duvalier, stepped onto the tarmac for the first time in a quarter of a century. The world poised with baited breath to see what the next turn of events would be. Would the Haitian government be willing, or indeed able to lay charges against this man, long accused of corruption, embezzlement, and a catalogue of human rights atrocities including murder, disappearances and torture? 

Well they can and they were. Up to a point. It is impressive that the authorities were capable of laying any charges at all, after all the prosecutor admitted the original case files had been destroyed in the earthquake. Yet notable by their absence were any charges relating to the most painful legacy of all. The human rights atrocities he committed in power. 

It is unclear whether Baby Doc will ever ultimately stand trial for any of the charges. A judge has three months to decide whether a case will be brought against the former leader on those already laid (Corruption and embezzlement) and it remains to be seen whether there are more charges to be added to the list.  

Journalists and spectators have been pondering why Baby Doc chose to return to the scene of the crime, as it were, in the first place. Speculation abounds about his depleted funds.  Perhaps he saw an opportunity, and thought that given the current state of chaos, he might be revered as the symbol of comparatively happier times. To some extent, that might be true. Better the devil you know. People in the street protesting at his arrest asserted that at least they did not have cholera there when he was in charge.  

Perhaps he simply thought there were bigger fish to fry, and that memories were short. That would be a mistake. Amnesty is leading the chorus of organisations insisting that the start of a new Haiti requires that the culture of impunity is ended. Baby Doc must face trial for the crimes against humanity committed under his rule. Cholera and earthquakes are faceless aggressors who can not be held to account. Baby Doc, though, must face up.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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