Declassified Documents Play Important Role in Legal Proceedings Against “Baby Doc” and Associates
By Alexandra Smith
Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, also known as “Baby Doc,” died on October 4, 2014, at the age of 63, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He returned to Haiti in 2011 after living in France in self-imposed exile for 25 years, and died never having apologized for the atrocities committed by his regime.
In April 1971, nineteen-year-old Jean-Claude was named “Papa Doc” Francois Duvalier’s successor as President-for-Life. He ruled Haiti for fifteen years, during which time he continued his father’s practices of arresting, detaining, torturing, and murdering dissidents. While in power, the “State of Siege” proclaimed in 1958 was never lifted, Haiti’s Anti Communist Law was cited in numerous brutal crackdowns on press and political parties, and the ubiquitous Ton Ton Macoutes had a free hand to intimidate opponents of the regime. Duvalier is also known for his lavish spending at the expense of the Haitian people (including marrying Michele Bennett in what the Guiness Book of World Records labels “the most expensive” wedding ever).
Legal proceedings began against the former President-for-Life after his 2011 return to, and subsequent arrest in, Haiti on charges of human rights violations. According to Lawyers Without Borders of Canada, trial preparations will continue. The organization’s October 4 press release states: “The death of […] Jean-Claude Duvalier does not put an end to the prosecution of those most responsible for serious human rights violations committed under the Duvalier regime.”
Duvalier’s associates named in the legal proceedings include Jean Valmé, Chief of the Service Detectif, Duvalier’s secret civilian police group, and Emmanuel Orcel, a Service Detectif commander. Both Valmé and Orcel are known to have participated in interrogations at the infamous prison Casernes Dessalines.
National Security Archive Senior Analyst Kate Doyle and her research assistant Alexandra Smith have worked with Lawyers Without Borders and the plaintiff coalition Collectif contre l’impunité to provide declassified U.S. documents that will act as evidence in the case against the ex-dictator’s accomplices.
The documents provided by the Archive help show the regime’s numerous attempts to hide or deny the systematic rights abuses that occurred under Jean-Claude Duvalier, while the regime simultaneously disregarded and flouted international human rights standards. For example, an Unclassified December 19, 1980, report from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince describes Duvalier’s coy response to questions from the U.S. Ambassador regarding use of torture, in which he states that yes, some of the prisoners were “spanked a bit.” An earlier September 8, 1977, Top Secret Sensitive Codeword White House memo recounts the assertion by a top Haitian official that foreign human rights investigators “will see nothing contrary to their standards because ‘we will hide what has to be hidden.’” The author of the memo goes on to explain, “Duvalier does not intend to introduce any significant reforms or to refrain from using arrests or the threat of arrests to remove people he views as political threats.”
Danièle Magloire, Coordinator for Collectif contre l’impunité, explains that beyond their function as evidence, documents unearthed by the Archive contribute to the important process of building a collective memory: “The documents uncovered, the testimony collected, the words exchanged, are all part of the struggle against impunity, and contribute to the creation of a democratic society in Haiti, one that is able to confront its past in order to build a better future.”