IACHR Calls on Member States to Open their Archives on the Human Rights Violations Committed under the Regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier
May 5, 2014
Washington, D.C. – During its 150 ordinary period of sessions, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held a public hearing on access to justice for victims of the Jean-Claude Duvalier regime in Haiti, in which it received information on the need to obtain access to official documents held by the Haitian State and foreign Governments.
After the return of Jean-Claude Duvalier to Haiti in January 2011, a group of victims filed criminal complaints against the former “president for life” for alleged human rights violations committed under his regime. On January 27, 2012, the investigating judge declared that the statute of limitations had run out for the crimes related to human rights violations. However, on February 20, 2014, the Court of Appeals in Port-au-Prince ordered the reopening of the investigation into human rights abuses. The Court concluded that international law is part of Haitian domestic law, therefore, statutory limitations do not apply to crimes against humanity. The Inter-American Commission has welcomed this historic decision and has emphasized that it represents a fundamental step in the strengthening of the rule of law and in restoring confidence in the Haitian justice system.
As part of its monitoring of the human rights situation in Haiti, the Commission held a public hearing on March 28, 2014, on access to justice for victims of the Jean-Claude Duvalier regime. Representatives of organizations of civil society that are part in the domestic proceedings as well as representatives of the State of Haiti participated in the hearing. According to the information provided, one of the challenges faced by the representatives of the victims is the lack of access to official files held that could serve as evidence of the human rights violations committed under the Duvalier regime.
“We received troubling information in the hearing held during the last period of sessions. The lack of access to official files, in some cases held by the Haitian Government and in others by foreign Governments, is an obstacle for justice in the human rights violations committed under the Duvalier regime. We urge those Governments to open their archives and grant access to all files that might help in the search for justice,” said IACHR’s Rapporteur for Haiti, Commissioner Rose-Marie Belle Antoine.
In its recommendation on access to Government files and documents published in its 1998 Annual Report, the Inter-American Commission stressed the importance of access to government files and documents in the administration of justice, in particular, in cases of gross human rights violations. According to this recommendation, legal and administrative obstacles that hinder access to those documents must be removed in order to support the processes to determine individual and state responsibility for such grave violations.
In this regard, the IACHR reiterates its call on all OAS Member States to open their archives on the human rights abuses committed under the regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier in Haiti. The international community’s support and commitment are essential at this historical moment for the Haitian justice system.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.