“Moving forward” and “learning lessons” cannot be done without holding perpetrators of torture to account
After 25 years in exile, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the former ‘president for life’ responsible for the deaths of over 30,000 Haitians, returned to his country and was promptly put on trial.
However, much to the likely devastation of the survivors of his torturous regime and the families of victims killed during his term, he has only been charged with corruption and embezzlement. There are to be no charges for the torture, extrajudicial killings, and ‘disappearances’ that the victims of his crimes deserve to see him held accountable for.
And both expectantly and deservedly, the condemnations of the Haitian decision have come flooding in. From the Washington Post Editorial Board to the UN High Commission for Human Rights, the magistrate responsible for the decision has been unanimously vilified for allowing Duvalier impunity for his most heinous crimes and human rights violations. I agree that Duvalier should be held accountable and that this recent decision was rightfully worthy of condemnation.
However, a common from Haiti’s current president caught my attention: Asked about the Duvalier case, President Martelly told The Washington Post: “It is part of the past. We need to learn our lessons and move forward.”
President Martelly’s language is markedly similar to another leader a little to the north of the island nation. The current U.S. administration has refused to pursue an investigation or charges against top Bush Administration officials for allegations of torture committed during the so-called ‘war on terror’, with Obama saying in a statement that it is a “time for reflection, not retribution”. These crimes too have been swept under the carpet, despite international obligations to properly investigate and hold perpetrators to account.
Yet both Duvalier and U.S. government officials need to be held to account for their crimes. Sweeping the responsibility for these crimes under the rug not only fails the state’s obligations to the survivors and victims’ families; it perpetuates a cycle of impunity, and gives a free rein for torturers to continue.