Judging by the circus that is being played in the attempt to prosecute Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier on the generic charge of “Crimes against humanity” for the abuses that occurred under his authoritarian rule (1971-86), it is obvious that the process is as destructive as the need to expunge the concept of impunity from the national psyche. Notwithstanding the challenge for Haiti to prosecute a man whose legacy and that of his father (Papa Doc) are still a powerful and decisive factor in the country, the bizarre affair is being manipulated by obscure forces with a vested interest in prolonging the agony of Haitians. A cursory look at J.C Duvalier’s departure from power, his exile in France and dramatic return to Haiti in the midst of a general election prove the point beyond the shadow of a doubt.
J.C Duvalier was spirited out of Haiti on a US military plane on February 7th, 1986 and flown to France where he resided for 25 years. Throughout these decades, neither Human Rights Watch nor Amnesty International had demanded that France prosecute him for the so-called crimes against humanity, which can be filed with any jurisdiction under the universal law of justice. It is all the more absurd that prosecuting J.C Duvalier at this delicate moment in Haitian history has become an obsession for these organizations. Desperately poor; barely structured and chronically divided, Haiti needs all its sons and daughters to help it recover from the devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake. The normally divisive political class must rally and resist this unconcealed attempt by these entities at sowing discord.
Tellingly, the paternalism of these human rights organizations, masquerading as genuine concerns for the welfare of the long-suffering Haitian people, is no different than those of the traditional tormentors. It spanned two centuries (1804-2012) and impeded the development of Haiti. In actuality, these organizations’ bizarre actions ought to be considered “hostile” by the Haitian people and the government of Haiti in light of the fact they are paternalistic, divisive and a naked form of colonialism. The argument that justice for the victims requires that J.C Duvalier stands trial is fundamentally flawed. There is no document proving that Baby Doc, as president of Haiti, specifically ordered the killings of his political opponents. Some may call this argument naïve, but isn’t the prosecution of anyone depends on availability of evidence?
Emotion-based justice is in itself a form of injustice that causes more harm to the rule of law than the actions of the perpetrators. Historically, this unconventional approach to correct injustice has produced a cycle of violence wherever it is tried. The fate of the architects of the Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution (1789), Robespierre and Danton, among others, is a textbook example of emotion-based justice that came back to haunt its creators.
On January 1st, 2004, the day commemorating the bicentennial of Haiti’s impressive victory against injustice, Jean Bertrand Aristide, then-president of Haiti, could have preempted all the subsequent developments, including the February 29, 2004 invasion and occupation of the country, by extending an amnesty to all Haitian leaders who may have been guilty of crimes against the Haitian people. As destiny would have it, this unique opportunity to rally all Haiti’s sons and daughters under the same tent and neutralize our enemies’ most important weapon “the power to divide and conquer”, once thought to be politically unfeasible, was given a lifeline by the tragedy of the January 12, 2010. Unfortunately, pettiness and obscurantism stood in the way.
Self-righteousness cannot and must not be taught by hypocrites. The bizarre campaign by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights, Navi Pillay, to have J.C Duvalier prosecuted by the Haitian government at this delicate juncture in Haitian history is political expediency in its worst form. Without a doubt, the crimes attributed to J.C “Baby Doc” Duvalier are kindergarten pranks in comparison to those committed against the Haitian people by France. Have these human rights organizations ever considered asking France to repay the money it extorted from Haiti, which impoverished the little nation? Or, do they plan to investigate the former prime minister Gérard Latortue (2004-06) whose rule was nothing less than genocidal? An estimated 6000 Haitians lost their lives for no reason other than being on the wrong side of the political fence.
Like most people, I sincerely believe that any large scale political persecution of innocent citizens, wherever it happens, should not be allowed to fade from humanity’s consciousness. This approach however should not close the door on forgiveness and reconciliation. Civility and the need for troubled nations to move forward demand it, but the twisted logic of these self-righteous organizations seems to rules out any such consideration in J.C Duvalier’s case.
For 200 plus years, Haiti’s political class has abdicated its role of protector of the nation’s interests by letting itself be defined and controlled by outsiders dedicated to the destruction and subjugation of the country. The January 12, 2010 tragedy should have been an epiphany for these politicians whose indictment was evident in the designation of Haiti as “a failed state and a threat to international peace and security.” They now have an opportunity to make a stand against the unwarranted meddling of these self-styled human rights crusaders and make amends for their past transgressions. Duvalier’s fate should be decided solely by Haitians.
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