Former Haitian leader Jean-Claude Duvalier must not be allowed to evade justice for his alleged responsibility for crimes against humanity committed during his time in office and the victims must receive reparations, Amnesty International said as a Court was due to hear an appeal on the case against the former President known as “Baby Doc”.
During the hearing, the Court will assess a request by victims’ families and survivors of torture, illegal executions and enforced disappearances during Duvalier’s time in power (1971-1986) to overturn a previous decision not to investigate the former leader’s alleged responsibility for the crimes.
In January 2012, the investigating judge assigned to the case decided to try the former leader only for embezzlement of public funds, claiming the crimes against humanity for which he was accused had expired under a statute of limitations in Haitian law.
“International human rights standards are very clear in cases such as this. 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,” said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.
Lawyers representing victims of human rights violations complained about several procedural failures in the way the appeal has been dealt with so far, including the fact that not all plaintiffs had been notified of the hearings.
The appeal court hearing is due to take place on 7 February, having previously been postponed when Jean-Claude Duvalier failed to appear in court on 31 January.
Despite having being placed under house arrest during the investigation, Jean-Claude Duvalier continues to take part in public events accompanied by his lawyers and supporters and in early January 2013 it was reported that he had been granted a diplomatic passport.
Several public statements from President Martelly have also hinted at pardoning Duvalier. All this casts serious doubt on the will of the Haitian authorities to address the total impunity which still shrouds the crimes against humanity committed during Jean-Claude Duvalier’s time in power.
“With the case of Jean Claude Duvalier, it is the whole credibility of the Haitian justice system which is at stake. 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,” said Javier Zúñiga.
Jean-Claude Duvalier returned to Haiti from 25 years exile in France in January 2011. He was then indicted by the Haitian authorities for embezzlement and theft of public funds during his presidency and, later, for crimes against humanity – including torture, executions, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances carried out between 1971 and 1986.
The day of the hearing, 7 February, is also the 27 th anniversary of Jean Claude Duvalier’s flight into exile in 1986, which brought to an end the 28 year rule of the Duvalier family which began with the coming to power of his father François Duvalier in 1957.