A Haitian appeals court has ruled that one of the French-speaking Caribbean country’s most brutal dictators could be charged with crimes against humanity.
The three-judge appellate panel, however, stopped short on Feb. 20 of ordering a trial of former President Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier to proceed, saying that further investigation is necessary.
The panel rejected Duvalier’s argument that the statute of limitations had expired and that international law undergirding the charges was inapplicable.
But while the court did not set a date for a final decision in the Duvalier case, presiding judge Jean Joseph Lebrun appointed colleague Durin Junior Duret to further investigate the allegations of corruption and crimes against humanity against Duvalier.
Justice Lebrun wants Duret to interview all victims who did not get a chance to testify during the appeals hearings.
In addition, he wants Duret to identify others who have been accused of crimes along with Duvalier and interview all witnesses.
The appeals court ruling is seen as a huge blow to Duvalier, who has been fighting to remain out of jail since returning to his impoverished, earthquake-ravaged homeland in January 2011 after a 25-year exile in France.
“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. (Very Important Person) than someone with atrocity charges hanging over him,” said Reed Brody of the New York-based human rights group, Human Rights Watch, which pushed the case forward.
Nicole Phillips, a human rights lawyer with Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy, also hailed the ruling as “a total victory not only for the victims of Jean-Claude Duvalier but also the Haitian legal system.
“This is showing that a court is willing to address the issue of impunity as Duvalier is floating around as a senior statesman,” said Phillips, who was in the courtroom when the decision was read.
“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,” she added. “This is a very, very important ruling.”
But Reynold Georges, lead attorney for Duvalier, took issue with the ruling, stating that the court lacked jurisdiction in the case because “there is a statute of limitations, and second, they have already judged Duvalier before on economic crimes. They cannot come back with that again.”
He told reporters that the statute of limitations on human rights crime in Haiti is 10 years, adding that international law doesn’t apply because Haiti never ratified it
“You cannot condemn someone using a law that doesn’t exist,” Georges said.
During his campaign, Haitian President Michel Martelly had suggested that amnesty be granted to Duvalier, but he subsequently retracted, saying he would permit the judiciary to make its ruling.