By James Burke from Amnesty International’s team in Port-au-Prince.
We probably should have known something strange was happening when the room holding our press conference was already full 15 minutes before we were due to begin – the press are not always known for their promptness.
Unusual as that seemed, we never expected that barely minutes into the presentation of our new report on former Haiti President Jean-Claude Duvalier, our voices would be drowned out by the shouts of a number of protestors who had been sitting there quietly only moments earlier.
The protestors were supporters of Duvalier, and they had come to disrupt the launch of our report here in Port-au-Prince on human rights violations committed under his rule from 1971 to 1986 (‘You cannot kill the truth’: The case against Jean-Claude Duvalier).
During that period, hundreds of Haitians were victims of arbitrary detentions, torture, deaths in custody, killings and disappearances, some of which amount to crimes against humanity. Having returned to Haiti last January after 25 years in exile, Jean-Claude Duvalier currently faces charges of crimes against humanity.
The judicial process against him, however, has stalled and Amnesty International’s report calls on the Haitian authorities to show the political will to ensure that those responsible for human rights violations during his presidency are brought to justice.
My colleagues, Gerardo Ducos, researcher on Haiti who wrote the report, and Javier Zúñiga, Special Adviser to the Secretary General of Amnesty International, who had interviewed survivors of the Duvalier regime in the 1980s, both valiantly sought dialogue with the protesters, who refused to let the press conference proceed. Among those disrupting the launch were Jean-Claude Duvalier’s lawyers.
Javier said later that in the countless press conferences he has participated in during his 33 years with Amnesty International, he had never known anything like it.
We had invited survivors and families of victims of Jean-Claude Duvalier’s regime to the press conference, so that their voices could be heard by the Haitian and international press. Sadly, most of those who came had to reluctantly withdraw, as they felt intimidated by the presence of the protestors.
After four attempts, Gerardo and Javier finally managed to deliver Amnesty’s message to those journalists who remained. One survivor, Raymond Davius, also managed to have his story heard.
He spoke of the ill-treatment he had suffered during the 17 occasions he had been detained in the prisons of Jean-Claude Duvalier’s regime for being a member of the opposition Haitian Christian Democrat Party.
There was no press freedom under Jean-Claude Duvalier’s government and freedom of expression was greatly restricted. Those like Raymond Davius who were unable to speak out during his government about the injustices they had suffered will not be silenced now.
His voice and those of other survivors and families of victims must be allowed to be heard, and Amnesty International will continue to support their quest for truth, justice and reparation.
Haiti urged to bring Jean-Claude Duvalier to justice (News, 22 Septmember 2011)