It's a shame Jean-Claude Duvalier died a free man, says ex-UN prosecutor

"I’m afraid the international community has failed the Haitian people and Jean-Claude Duvalier died a free man," says former UN prosecutor Payam Akhavan.

Former UN prosecutor Payam Akhavan tried to put Duvalier on trial for crimes against humanity

Duvalier at age 19 was the world’s youngest head of state when he succeeded his father in April 1971 as Haiti's president-for-life. ((Reuters))

The news of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier's death is being met with mixed feelings by the international community.

Payam Akhavan isn't mincing words, though.

The former United Nations prosecutor and current law professor at McGill University was hired by the government of former Haitian president René Préval to prosecute "Baby Doc" Duvalier for human rights violations.

However, he was unable to prosecute Duvalier before the former dictator's death on Oct. 4. 

"Those who were the victims of his reign of mass terror are still living in Haiti and the scars of those crimes still affect Haitian society, not just in terms of those who were victims of the torture chambers and political murders, but also the problems that we have in Haiti with lack of accountability, with corruption," Akhavan told CBC News on Saturday.

Payam Akhavan, a law professor at McGill University and former UN prosecutor who helped the former Haitian government build a case against Duvalier. (McGill University)

"If Jean-Claude Duvalier is not prosecuted for crimes against humanity, what message does that send about impunity or gross abuses of power? I’m afraid the international community has failed the Haitian people and Jean-Claude Duvalier died a free man."

Haitian journalist Nancy Roc, who now lives in Montreal, said she immediately thought of Duvalier's victims when she first learned of his death.

"My first thoughts are to the victims because he died and the victims will never get their justice, and I don't think that's fair," Roc said.

Canada failed to hold Duvalier accountable

Akhavan said Duvalier — who inherited the leadership of Haiti from his father, "Papa Doc" Duvalier in 1971 and ran the country until he was overthrown in 1986 — ran a notoriously brutal regime. 

Haitian-Montrealer and journalist Nancy Roc says she doesn't think the world will be worse off without Duvalier. (CBC)

He said thousands of Haitians, including politicians, journalists and other engaged citizens, either disappeared, were murdered or were forced through torture chambers during Duvalier's 15 years as president of Haiti.

Akhavan accused Canada and other Western nations of not doing more to stop Duvalier during his presidency, or hold him accountable later. 

Part of the reason, he said, was that Duvalier was a key player against Communism during the Cold War, and that he was left largely alone to do as he pleased by Western governments so long as he continued to fight Communism.

Duvalier was exiled from Haiti in 1986 and settled in France with his family.

He returned unexpectedly to Haiti in 2011 and was quickly arrested and charged with corruption and committing human rights abuses, to which he ultimately pleaded not guilty.

He was free while under indictment when he died from a heart attack in his Port-au-Prince home on Saturday. 

"It's been three years. He's been in restaurants, he's been everywhere, just enjoying his life without being judged," journalist Roc said.

"I don't think that the world is going to be worse without him, that's for sure," she continued.

Of all the Haitian immigrants in Canada, over 90 per cent of them live in Quebec.