HSG NEWS FLASH: way paved for “Baby Doc” Duvalier to stand trial
Source: The Miami Herald, 20th February 2014
By Jacqueline Charles
A three-judge panel ruled Thursday that Haiti has no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity, delivering a “total victory” to those seeking to have former President-for-Life Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier tried for alleged crimes during his 15-year rule.
The judges, who began considering the case in December 2012, appointed a member of the panel to investigate allegations of corruption and crimes against humanity brought against Duvalier.
Reynold Georges, Duvalier’s lead attorney, said shortly after the ruling that he wanted to reserve comment until he reads the decision.
But Georges did say that he takes issue with the ruling. The panel needed to wait for a decision on his filing, charging that the court lacked jurisdiction in the case because “there is a statue of limitations, and second, they have already judged Duvalier before on economic crimes. They cannot come back with that again.”
Georges also argues that in Haiti the statue of limitation on human rights crime is 10 years and international law doesn’t apply because Haiti never ratified it.
“You cannot condemn someone using a law that doesn’t exist,” he said.
Nicole Phillips, a human rights lawyer with Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy, praised the ruling.
“This ruling today is a total victory not only for the victims of Jean-Claude Duvalier but also the Haitian legal system,” said Phillips, who was in the courtroom as the decision was read. “This is showing that a court is willing to address the issue of impunity as Duvalier is floating around as a senior statesman. Now, you have a court that has ordered a very thorough investigation into the facts, crimes committed by him as well as people close to him. This is a very, very important ruling.”
Duvalier has long maintained his innocence. In a 2011 interview with the Miami Herald after returning from exile in France, he and his lawyers punched holes in the 25-year-old legal case. They challenged it on procedural grounds and argued that the statue of limitations had expired.
Duvalier himself shrugged off claims that he and his supporters pillaged the national treasury and that he spirited away $120 million in public money when he fled on Feb. 7, 1986. He also denied charges that he had ordered the deaths and imprisonment of opponents, including journalists.
Victims of the Duvalier and human rights lawyers applauded the appeals court’s decision.
Even as they fought to overturn an investigative judge’s decision that Duvalier should only face the lesser corruption charges, victims and human rights observers questioned whether the case would move forward.
President Michel Martelly had suggested during the campaign that amnesty be granted to Duvalier and former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who also had returned returned from exile. Martelly later backed off the statement, saying he would let the judiciary do its work.
Still, in a move his supporters call efforts to reconcile Haiti’s past and present, Martelly has invited Duvalier and other former presidents to official events, including the Jan. 1 independence celebrations in Gonaives. Duvalier was photographed standing next to Martelly.
“It’s a remarkable statement of the independence by the judges,” said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch. “We’ve seen Jean-Claude Duvalier be invited to presidential events and prancing around the country as if he were a VIP rather than an accused criminal. It’s an important affirmation of the potential of the rule of law.”
The court did not set a date for a final decision. Instead, judges ordered further investigation into the allegations of corruption and crimes against humanity. They also want interviews of all the victims who did not get a chance to testify during the appeals hearings. The judges also said they intend to identify others who have been accused of crimes along with Duvalier, and to interview all witnesses.
By Jacqueline Charles