Memory and Justice



Now comes “Baby Doc” Duvalier, with a request to postpone a hearing regarding a long list of crimes against humanity. The grounds? It seems he does not wish to discuss such things on the anniversary of his departure for Paris in 1986, under cover provided by the CIA.

According to his lawyer Reynold Georges, “He wants the date to be changed. A lot of organizations and human rights people are saying, a bunch of ‘blah, blah,’ that if the court chooses that date, it’s because they want to throw out all the charges against him. We have nothing to hide. He will be cleared.”

Among those in the “blah blah” bunch, we find Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch, “The law is very clear. Haiti has a legal binding obligation to investigate, and if appropriate, prosecute the crimes committed under Duvalier.”  The underlying principle: There must be no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity.

With this in mind, and closer to home, descendants of the Sand Creek Massacre continue to press their own case for justice in response to the slaughter of 163 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, most of them women and children, on November 29, 1864. Bodies were mutilated, with various body parts cut off and placed on display inside a Denver theater.

Article 6 of the 1865 Treaty of the Little Arkansas officially acknowledged that “gross and wanton outrages” were inflicted upon “certain bands” of Cheyenne and Arapaho. Compensation was promised, yet never delivered.



At the close of her painstaking investigation into the case of John Demjanjuk (summarized here, but published in its entirety as a chapter in The Healing Wound), Gitta Sereny writes:

“But although the crimes are now and must remain a part of history, the Naz1-crime trials must cease. The alleged criminals, the survivors and the witnesses are too old: these are now men and women in their eighties; memories and evidence become flawed. Prosecutions are not safe. The survivors of that terrible period, with a pain of the soul that none of us can imagine, and their children who inevitably had to share it, must be allowed and indeed allow themselves to let go of it — to rest.”

Sereny is concerned about the quality of prosecution; that is, that crimes against humanity not be compounded by miscarriages of justice. In the case of Demjanjuk, facts proved elusive; in the case of the Sand Creek Massacre, however, there is no longer any question about what happened. There, the dispute is over compensation as articulated in the 1865 Treaty, though unqualified recognition of the event as an atrocity took well over a century, as documented in a fascinating recent study by Ari Kelman.

In the matter of Baby Doc, we are confronted with a rather different question: whether the Haitian legal system is able to break with the long tradition of permitting despotic rulers to get away with murder.

As stated by Amnesty International’s Javier Zuñiga,“The arrest of Jean-Claude Duvalier is a positive step but it is not enough to charge him only with corruption. If true justice is to be done in Haiti, the Haitian authorities need to open a criminal investigation into Duvalier’s responsibility for the multitude of human rights abuses that were committed under his rule including torture, arbitrary detentions, rape, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.”



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