With torture victims of his regime preparing to pack a Port-au-Prince appeals court Thursday, former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier is seeking to delay his court-ordered appearance in an appeals hearing on whether he should face trial on embezzlement and human rights allegations.
Reynold Georges, a Duvalier attorney, said the ex-president has no problem appearing in court, but he doesn’t want to do so on Thursday, the anniversary of his fall from power and flight into exile 27 years ago.
“He wants the date to be changed,” said Georges, who plans to reiterate Duvalier’s written request for a postponement at the hearing. “A lot of organizations and human rights people are saying, a bunch of ‘blah, blah,’ that if the court chooses that date, it’s because they want to throw out all the charges against him.
“We have nothing to hide,” he said. “He will be cleared.”
Duvalier stunned Haitians two years ago with his surprise return to Haiti after 25 years in exile. Days later prosecutors re-opened a corruption case against him and dozens of victims of his regime brought human rights complaints against him.
Last week, the head of Haiti’s Court of Appeals, Jean Joseph Lebrun, ordered Duvalier to appear in court after postponing the start of the appeals hearing in his case. The ex-president, who has been a no-show at previous court hearings, is appealing last year’s decision by an investigative judge that he should be tried on plundering Haiti’s coffers during his 15-year totalitarian reign.
Meanwhile, victims of his regime are appealing the same judge’s decision to dismiss the more serious crimes against humanity allegations against Duvalier because the statute of limitations under Haitian law had run out. Human rights lawyers and advocates argue numerous international rulings have established there is no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity.
“The law is very clear. Haiti has a legal binding obligation to investigate, and if appropriate prosecute the crimes committed under Duvalier,” said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch.
This week, victims and human rights groups, including Haiti’s Collective Against Impunity, which includes 22 of the regime’s victims, stepped up calls for Duvalier to face justice. Citing last week’s chaotic court hearing last week during which, they said, legal procedures were not respected and victims were not properly notified, they said they fear charges against the ex-dictator would eventually be dropped.
Also casting doubts on the credibility of Haiti’s broken justice system are media reports that Duvalier recently had his diplomatic passport renewed and hints by President Michel Martelly — who later recanted — of a Duvalier pardon.
With Haiti struggling to enforce rule of law, Amnesty International and the Open Society Justice Initiative on Wednesday said it was imperative for the proceedings against Duvalier to continue and victims’ rights be respected.
“It is the whole credibility of the Haitian justice system which is at stake,” said Javier Zúñiga, Amnesty International special advisor. “Only by respecting the procedures in the appeal case, including thoroughly examining all evidence and hearing all the victims, will the Court be able to demonstrate the professionalism and independence of the Haitian justice system.”