(NEW YORK) – As a Haitian court was due to hear an appeal Thursday on the case against former Haitian leader Jean-Claude Duvalier, Amnesty International said “Baby Doc” must not be allowed to evade justice for alleged crimes against humanity including executions and torture committed during his years in office. The human rights organization also said the victims must receive reparations.
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 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 scheduled for Thursday was postponed from January 31, after Jean-Claude Duvalier failed to appear in court. February 7 is also the 27th anniversary of Duvalier’s flight into exile in 1986, which brought to an end the 28-year rule of the Duvalier family which began when his father François Duvalier came into power in 1957.
Despite having being placed under house arrest during the investigation, 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, which casts serious doubt on the will of the Haitian authorities to address the total impunity which still shrouds the crimes against humanity committed during 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,” said Zúñiga. “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."
Duvalier returned to Haiti in January 2011 after 25 years in exile in France. He was initially indicted by the Haitian authorities for embezzlement and theft of public funds during his presidency and only later for crimes against humanity.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth, and dignity are denied.