Impunity, Responsibility and Citizenship – HAITI
Context and Background
During the spring 2012 semester, the Henri Peyre French Institute at The Graduate Center of CUNY organized Haiti-Rencontres, a series of events held at the Graduate Center from April 24 to April 30. Haiti-Rencontres featured an interdisciplinary perspective on Haiti and its current affairs, and brought together the sciences and the humanities, addressing at once questions of art, memory, public health, human rights, development, and engaged theater.
The first event (April 24) was an exhibit called Port-au-Prince Debout: 1750-2010…, an archival photographic account of the architecture and neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince before the earthquake (CIDIHCA/ Consortium for Haitian Empowerment (CHE) / United Haitian Artists). On April 25, the distinguished Swiss physician and medical researcher Jean-Daniel Rainhorn (Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Institute for Global Studies, Paris) spoke on the causes of the cholera epidemic in Haiti (“Un Autre Regard sur l’Epidémie de Choléra en Haiti”). On April 30, the internationally known poet and theater performer Syto Cavé made his second visit to the Graduate Center. Both these visits were historic, in view of his stature in the world of Haitian letters and in the history of theater in NYC in the sixties, after which he did not return until the Graduate Center invited him a few years ago. (Annex 1).
The Impunity Seminar.-
In Fall 2013, the Henri Peyre French Institute (HPFI) renewed its commitment to promoting the visibility and understanding of Haitian culture and Haitian affairs, launching a new, bilingual, series of events on Haiti on the theme “Impunité, Responsabilité et Citoyenneté”/ “Impunity, Responsibility and Citizenship,” as one of the HPFI’s three-year seminars.
The seminar on “Impunity and Responsibility” is a reflection on the complex historical factors that have shaped the Haiti of today from the 1804 Revolution through various governments, opposition movements, and political discourses. These continue to haunt the collective Haitian view of the nation and its future and have much to do with its present national and international crisis status. By focusing on internal factors and their detailed history, as presented by Haitian voices themselves, the project seeks to contribute to the task of returning to Haitians much needed agency in reflecting on their own future, and to thus break away from the well-established tendency to view Haiti and Haitians through the prism of a fatalistic, victimized, unsolvable catastrophic reality. In the United States, even academics mostly retain the sketchiest view of the country which was not only the first Black Republic but one of the first republics of the world, and is generally labeled the site of misery, economic debacle, and dictatorial regimes. Haiti’s history is much more complex than that and offers a fascinating window on how Haitian activists, intellectuals, artists and the average citizen have meshed and collided over more than two centuries in the struggle to forge some sort of a future. In the process, these diverse Haitian actors have produced unique analyses of the Caribbean and the sequels of slavery, of political organization and resistance, and of the quandaries of democracy, that have implications reaching far beyond Haiti’s borders proper.
Thus, the seminar Impunity, Responsibility and Citizenship echoes a persistent concern in the Haitian community shared by scholars of Haiti regarding the institutionalization and normalization of impunity in Haiti.
Seminar topics covered events from the assassination in 1806 of Dessalines which to date remains judicially uninvestigated, to the present incapacity of Haiti as a nation to prosecute a dictator for well-documented and publicly proclaimed crimes. They included the tacit acceptance of incidents that have been purposefully left unresolved and in the shadows, such as the absence of any serious investigation of the assassination of the writer Jacques-Stephen Alexis and the journalist Jean Dominique, to only mention two of the most infamous. All these events clearly confirmed that this now generally known impunity has continued for over two centuries.
This seminar implies first of all recognition of this impunity. It does not merely view it as an object of grievance but envisages it as vital point of departure for another way of looking at Haitian reality. Artists, writers, and scholars have been invited to join in the discussion on the historical roots of this impunity, on its implication for the concepts of state responsibility and civic responsibility within the Haitian context, and on its impact on everyday life and discourse. The seminar thus attempts to establish a correlation between seemingly disjointed historical episodes and the constitution of the Haitian social texture.
Haiti Impunité : Une réflexion inter institutionnelle et multisectorielle
Concomitamment au séminaire Impunité du Henri Peyre French Institute, s’instaurait en Haiti et dans la diaspora haïtienne une réflexion nourrie en rapport à l’impunité en Haiti, et des actions concrètes plus circonscrites portant sur la dictature des Duvalier. Tout en n’étant pas nécessairement concertées, ces actions dans leur effet synergique, ne témoignent pas moins à la fois de la maturation de cette réflexion éparse et d’une conscience exacerbée de l’abject de la perpétration du fait de l’impunité.
Des plus notables, il faut retenir :
Janvier 2011. Plaintes contre Duvalier portées par devant les tribunaux haïtiens par des particuliers suivies de la création du Collectif contre l’Impunité qui se porte en partie civile.
7 février 2014. Le projet de sensibilisation à l’impunité et de transmission de la mémoire « Haïti lutte contre l’impunité » fonctionnant majoritairement en ligne est lancé simultanément à Port-au-Prince et à Montréal.
Juin 2014. Tenue à Port-au-Prince du colloque De la dictature à la démocratie.
Juin 2015. Colloque international : La rencontre des mémoires. Dictatures en Haiti et en Argentine – FOKAL et Universidad Nacional General Sarniento (UNGS).
2010. Devoir de Mémoire