Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier snubbed a judge's order to attend a court hearing yesterday to determine if he will be indicted on human rights violations committed under his ruthless 15-year regime.
Reynold Georges, Duvalier's defense attorney and former senator, claimed that he filed an appeal of the judge's order and asserted that he was confident that the Supreme Court would overturn the decision to force Duvalier to appear in court as well as put a stop to accusations brought forth by countless victims of Duvalier's rule. Georges boasted, "We're waiting for the Supreme Court decision and we're going to win, I don't lose. I'm Haiti's Johnnie Cochran."
The victims' attorneys urged the judge to arrest the former leader for not being present in court. Judge Jean Joseph Lebrun of Haiti's Court of Appeals responded that Duvalier had no grounds to appeal to the Supreme Court at this juncture and demanded that the prosecutor bring the former leader to court "without delay." It was not clear whether there would be any consequences for not adhering to court orders.
Duvalier inherited power from his father, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier in 1971 and ruled Haiti until he was overthrown in 1986. Thousands of people were murdered or tortured in prison during this time. Duvalier made an unexpected return to his earthquake-stricken homeland in January 2011 after nearly 25 years in exile in France, opening himself up to possible prosecution. Duvalier was also charged with embezzling between $300 million and $800 million of assets during his presidency however a court dismissed the embezzlement charge, which would carry a maximum of five years in prison.
The human rights community is in an uproar. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay declared in Geneva that "the State has an obligation to ensure that there is no impunity for serious violations of human rights which occurred in the past."Pillay stressed that there are no statute of limitations of any kind in international law for grave violations of human rights which include murder, torture, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearances, among others.
This is not the first time Duvalier has skipped his court hearing. He has done so twice this year and continues to travel the country freely despite a court ruling placing him under house arrest.
On Tuesday United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang supported the creation of a truth panel to investigate the human rights abuses of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, Haiti’s president from 1971 to 1986. Speaking at a press conference in Haiti, Kang said the initiative would facilitate reconciliation among Haitian victims of the dictatorship, and that it would proceed alongside current efforts to prosecute Duvalier in local courts. The former despot has been accused of torture, arbitrary detentions, rape, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions.
During a four-day trip to Haiti, Kang met with government officials, including President Michel Martelly and the president of the lower chamber in Congress, as well as human rights groups and civil society organizations. She reminded them of the importance of human rights in the context of development and insisted on the importance of a truth commission. “I hope it will thoroughly examine this period of Haitian history as well as others, promote memory and reconciliation, and raise awareness of the need to protect and promote human rights, particularly among young persons,” she said.
After being overthrown by a popular uprising in 1986, Duvalier fled to France, where he spent the last 25 years in exile. He returned to Haiti in January of this year, after which several criminal charges were brought against him. More than 20 lawsuits have been filed in local courts for crimes including murder, torture and embezzlement. Bobby Duval, a former soccer celebrity who favors the creation of a truth commission, is among the plaintiffs; he has spoken several times about the tortures he suffered during 17 months of imprisonment without charge.
Duvalier’s lawyer, Reynold Georges, opposes the creation of a truth commission, arguing, “We have our own legal system, and we're going to stick to it. ... Love Duvalier or leave the country.” Additionally, in April, President Martelly told a Montreal newspaper that he would be willing to consider amnesty for Duvalier on the basis of national reconciliation. He has already reached out to Duvalier allies; Daniel Supplice, minister of social affairs under Duvalier, was the head of Martelly’s transition team and is among the candidates to become Martelly’s Prime Minister.