Haiti: Baby Doc in the dock?

The effort to bring former Haitian “president for life” Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier (1971-1986) to trial for human rights abuses inched forward on Feb. 7 when an appeals court panel in Port-au-Prince heard from lawyers representing people who say they were victims of his regime. Duvalier had failed to appear at an earlier hearing, scheduled for Jan. 31, and he refused to attend the new hearing, which fell on the 27th anniversary of his 1986 overthrow. Defense lawyers read the judges a letter from Duvalier saying that Feb. 7 should be “a day of national reconciliation” and complaining about “abominable acts” that he said were committed against his supporters after his ouster—apparently a reference to the lynching of some members of the notorious Tonton Macoute paramilitary group.

The plaintiffs first brought charges against Duvalier when he returned to Haiti in January 2011 after a 25-year exile in France, but the investigative judge in the case, Carvès Jean, ruled in January 2012 that while Duvalier should stand trial for allegations of corruption, the statute of limitations had run out for the human rights violations. International rights groups have protested this decision. “International human rights standards are very clear in cases such as this,” Javier Zúñiga, a special adviser at Amnesty International (AI) said in a Feb. 6 press release. “Crimes including torture, executions, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances are not subject to a statute of limitations and the alleged perpetrators cannot benefit from pardons or amnesties.”

As Duvalier supporters and opponents demonstrated outside, the two legal teams clashed in the courtroom. Duvalier’s group interrupted the plaintiffs’ lawyers, charging that they had no standing in the case since they allegedly had failed to follow proper procedures. After a brief recess, the judges finally heard from the plaintiffs’ lawyers, who demanded that the court require Duvalier to appear for another hearing or face arrest. Appeals court judge Jean Joseph Lebrun scheduled a new hearing for Feb. 21, again calling for Duvalier to appear in person. (AI press release, Feb. 6; AlterPresse, Haiti, Feb. 7, Feb. 8)

Meanwhile, the courts’ investigation of the April 2000 murder of journalist Jean Léopold Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint, the guard at Dominique’s Haïti Inter radio station, is continuing. Investigative judge Yvickel D. Dabresil issued a letter asking Mirlande Libérus, a former senator for the Lavalas Family (FL) party of ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004), to appear in the appeals court “on the Friday that falls on Feb. 6, 2013.” Libérus’ lawyer, human rights attorney Mario Joseph, argued that since Feb. 6, 2013 fell on a Wednesday, the former senator, who now lives in the US, didn’t know when to appear; Joseph requested a new date from the judge, who has been in charge of the long-delayed investigation since Apr. 3, 2005. (AlterPresse, Feb. 6)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 10.