“Here I am in Gonaives this morning after 26 years, answering your invitation, which provoked memories that are not necessarily pleasant,” declared former president-for-life Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier to the graduating class of Gonaives’ Faculty of Law. “Indeed,” continued the honorary speaker, “I’m referring to Jean-Robert Cius, Michaelson Michel and Daniel Israel, fallen almost at the threshold of adolescence.” Surrounded by students and bodyguards, Duvalier added, “Please take a moment, as I ask you to join me in observing a moment of silence in their memory.”
Invoking the memory of the three martyred students by the former dictator was particularly injurious to his victims, activists and leaders of human rights organizations. The Committee of Lawyers for the Respect of Individual Liberties (CARLI French acronym) wondered, in a released note, “How can he invoke the memory of the victims while the perpetrators of this triple murder worked for his regime, therefore making him criminally responsible.” In November 1985, Duvalier’s strong men, the Tonton Macoutes, killed the three students in cold blood in the City of Independence, initiating the eruption of popular uprisings throughout the country that led to his fleeing for France on February 7, 1986. The former authoritarian leader inherited the reins of Haiti’s presidency from his father Francois Duvalier in 1971 and ruled the country with an iron fist until his dethronement by military coup.
CARLI’s leaders denounced the scandalous behavior of the faculty, especially Joseph Patron Jean-Louis, the dean of Gonaives’ School of Law and Economics. “How can law students and officials from a law school ignore the basic principles of human rights and even want to institutionalize the impunity of our political leaders,” asked Renand Hedouville, general secretary of CARLI. He called the school’s choice insulting and provocative, actions he said leaders undertook to slowly reintegrate Duvalier into Haitian society.
During his speech, Duvalier said choosing him as honorary speaker was a particularly courageous and thoughtful act for which he owed the students a debt of gratitude. However, the Ecumenical Center for Human Rights (CEDH French acronym) disagreed, calling his intervention an “Unjustifiable provocation to the memory of thousands of compatriots, daughters and sons of Haiti,” especially when future legal and judicial leaders made that choice. Protesting the school’s decision, CEDH wondered how Duvalier could roam around the country so freely while a judge placed him on house arrest.
Duvalier, 60, landed in Haiti unexpectedly on January 16, 2011, after a 25-year exile in France; however, state prosecutors charged him with corruption, embezzlement and crimes against humanity two days later. Amid disturbance reports taken place wherever the ex-dictator visited, a judge placed him on home confinement, pending a decision about the charges against him. Recently, two dozen Duvalier supporters paralyzed an Amnesty International press conference, barging in Le Plaza Hotel where the human rights organization planned to released ‘You Cannot Kill the Truth,” a report detailing dozens of unpublished testimonies from political prisoners who survived the authoritarian regime.
State prosecutors still await Judge Carvez Jean’s decision on the merit of the case against Duvalier who declared, “It’s time for reconciliation,” to his young crowd, cheering. However, rather than rewarding impunity, CARLI’s note reminded students “their obligation was to fight against it.”