By Trenton Daniel, Associated Press
February 8, 2012
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A U.N. official expressed support Wednesday for Haitian victims of former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier’s regime who plan to appeal a judge’s recommendation that calls for trying the ex-leader only for alleged financial crimes and not human rights abuses.
The appeals process began this week after Haiti’s attorney general received the finding of an investigative magistrate recommending that Duvalier face trial in a lesser court that handles only relatively minor crimes.
“I support (the victims’) decision to appeal the judge’s decision in order to proceed with the (human rights) case,” Michel Forst, the U.N. independent expert on human rights, told reporters.
Human rights groups have strongly criticized the judge’s finding, saying there is ample evidence to prosecute Duvalier on abuse charges that include torture, false imprisonment and political assassination during his 15-year reign.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights also has said Duvalier should be tried for “very serious human rights violations,” which it said were “extensively documented.”
Forst spoke with reporters as he wrapped up a weeklong trip in Haiti during which he met with government officials, Western diplomats and rights advocates to discuss human rights issues. He was following up on a visit in September 2011.
Forst pointed to a recent trial that convicted eight Haitian police officers for their role in deadly prison riot as an example of a success but said Haiti needs to do more to ensure no one is above the law.
He also raised concerns about prolonged pretrial detention in Haiti, where about three-quarters of the 5,000 people in prison have never even been charged with a crime.
The administration of President Michel Martelly has identified the rule of law as one of its four major priorities. But some lawmakers have accused Martelly of violating the separation of powers, including what they called political retribution last fall when police jailed an opposition legislator without following the law.