On February 20, 2014 a Haitian Appeals Court decided to uphold human rights charges against former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. This decision is a landmark first step towards accountability for the powerful and building the rule of law in Haiti. Next steps are victim and witness interviews and gathering of evidence in order to bring the case to trial. Duvalier will also likely appeal the decision.
Haitian Dictator May Be Charged With Human Rights Crimes, Court Says
Randal C. Archibold, The New York Times
February 20, 2014
MEXICO CITY — An appeals court in Haiti ruled Thursday that one of the country’s most brutal dictators could be charged with crimes against humanity but stopped short of ordering a trial to proceed, calling for further investigation.
The ruling came in the case against Jean-Claude Duvalier, known as Baby Doc, who has been accused of masterminding the disappearance, torture and killing of hundreds of people during his reign from 1971 to 1986, when a revolt sent him into exile and opened the way to a tumultuous democracy in Haiti.
Mr. Duvalier returned to Haiti from France in 2011 and was charged with corruption and crimes against humanity, but a judge in 2012 dropped that charge, leading to appeals.
The three-judge appellate panel said Thursday that the human rights charges could go forward, rejecting an argument from Mr. Duvalier that the statute of limitations had expired and that international law undergirding the charges did not apply.
The decision was celebrated by human rights advocates as a major step in the long legal path to hold Mr. Duvalier accountable and strengthen Haiti’s democracy, where the powerful rarely face consequences for abuses.
He has been free since his return, frequenting clubs and restaurants around Port-au-Prince, and several people with links to him have served in President Michel Martelly’s office. At independence celebrations in January he was photographed sitting near Mr. Martelly.
Still, last year Mr. Duvalier appeared in court to answer questions from a judge as victims of his government sat nearby in disbelief, listening to his portrayal of his years as some of Haiti’s brightest days and refusing to admit to any crime or to the corruption that his accusers say siphoned off at least $150 million from the treasury.
“This is a victory and somewhat surprising given the political climate in Haiti and the fact Duvalier is cavorting around the country more like a V.I.P. than someone with atrocity charges hanging over him,” said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch, which pushed the case forward.
A lawyer for Mr. Duvalier told The Associated Press that an appeal of the ruling was likely.
Nicole Phillips, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti who was at the hearing on Thursday, said any trial would be at least months away, given the appellate court’s investigation and Mr. Duvalier’s probable appeal.
But she called the ruling “a huge, huge win for us” because, for victims and their advocates, it settled the legal matter of whether international law applies. Next, she said, an appellate judge would interview victims and witnesses — a hard task because in some cases their locations were unknown and fear is a hindrance — and then prepare findings for the panel to help decide if a trial should proceed.
Such a ruling, she said, could build momentum to confront a challenge by Mr. Duvalier in the Supreme Court, which would have to decide whether to let the case go forward.
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