Haitian legal system drags its heels in Duvalier case. March 21,2013 Catherine Porter, Toronto Star. Original article here
Alleged torture victim keeps waiting for chance to testify against Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, but Haiti’s courts move at snail’s pace.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—Raymond Davius was the first to arrive at the dingy courtroom Thursday, sitting alone on a wooden bench, waiting for justice.
He hoped this would be the day he would finally be called to testify against Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the country’s former dictator who inherited his iron whip from his father in 1971, and used it menacingly over his people for 15 years.
“They arrested me and tortured me 17 times and put me in three separate prisons,” Davius said. “I want Jean-Claude Duvalier to be judged. I want him to answer for his actions.”
Many in Haiti don’t think it will ever happen. Duvalier was whisked to France on an American plane in 1986 after the Haitian people finally rose up en masse against his authoritarian rule. Under his tenure, a paramilitary force known as Volunteers for National Security (VSN) arrested the press, political opponents, professors, lawyers, anyone the state deemed potentially dangerous. Most died in prison from torture, disease and starvation.Duvalier left with $300 million to $800 million (U.S.) in state funds and that, most Haitians thought, was that.
But then he surprised us all by returning to Haiti two years ago.
The very next day, human rights lawyers submitted charges against him. A judge ruled in 2012 that Duvalier could not be prosecuted for crimes against humanity because, under Haitian law, the statue of limitations had expired.
So, the lawyers and the victims they are representing appealed. How can there be an expiration date on murder and torture?
Which brings us to this stuffy courtroom, where the appeal case began last month and continues every Thursday.
The wheels of justice grind slowly in Haiti, if they grind at all.
So far, Duvalier himself and three victims have appeared.
Davius, who now works as an inspector in the state registry office, hopes to be called next.
He is so determined to have his story heard that he stood to tell it to me, all but shouting the details out to the lawyers and observers as they shuffled in.
In 1980, he was an auxiliary nurse in the Haitian army, he said. He got orders one day to go to Fort Dimanche, the notorious prison, to tend to a political prisoner.
“They didn’t give me any medicine to use. If I went, I realized, I’d be an accomplice to the regime.”
The next day, he quit the army and soon after joined a political party.
It wasn’t long before the VSN appeared at his home. What followed was more than a year of beatings, torture and imprisonment.
“They’d let me go and while I was walking home, they’d pick me up again for more torture,” said Davius, now 56. “Each beating was more sadistic than the last. They wanted to make an example of me.”
Many Haitians tell me the case amounts to window dressing. Haiti’s current president, Michel Martelly, has been openly sympathetic to Duvalier, issuing him a diplomatic passport. He also has hired some of Duvalier’s former henchmen to work on his team. There has even been talk of amnesty.
For survivors like Davius to stand up, all alone, and speak truth to a deaf government and a deaf world, well, that takes much courage.
We in Canada should press our government to support them. How else can there ever be an honest legal system here?
Davius told me the judges would be en retard. And he was right. They finally appeared 75 minutes late, announced by a school bell and dressed in silver rimmed black hats.
They took their seats for precisely 12 minutes. It was hard to hear the lead judge over the generator buzzing outside the sweltering room. But, it became clear he’d adjourned the case until April 11, out of respect for a court clerk who passed away.
The stuffy courtroom emptied quickly. Davius was among the last to leave.
“I’ll be back on April 11,” he said. “Every day, I’ll be here, until it’s finished.”