Haiti drops ‘Baby Doc’ rights abuses case

Duvalier to face corruption trial, but rights groups criticise ruling not to charge him over torture and murder claims.

Human rights groups have condemned a Haitian court’s decision not to charge Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the country former dictator, over allegations of torture and murder.

Duvalier will face trial for corruption during his 15-year rule, but not for human rights abuses, Carves Jean, the judge handling the case, said on Monday.

“I did not find enough legal grounds to keep human rights charges and crimes against humanity against him,” he said. “Now my job is over. The case is no longer in my hands.”

The judge said that the decision, based on a year-long investigation, must first be reviewed by the attorney general as well as by Duvalier and the victims of his regime who filed complaints against the former leader.

Reed Brody, counsel for Human Rights Watch, wrote in an e-mail: “Those who were tortured under Duvalier, those whose loved ones were killed or simply disappeared, deserve better than this.”

Amnesty International researcher Gerardo Ducos said he was puzzled by the judge’s findings, saying the “investigation was a sham and its conclusion a disgrace”.

UN officials and rights groups have urged Haiti to put Duvalier and senior officials on trial for atrocities committed under his rule, saying that under international law, the statute of limitations does not apply to crimes against humanity.

“The thousands of Haitians who suffered under this regime deserve justice,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has said.

Critical testimony ‘ignored’

Brian Concannon, Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, told Al Jazeera: “It is a pretty clear consensus that under international law the statute limitations do not apply to crime against humanity.”

“Charges against Duvalier are classic case of crime against humanity so it is pretty clear that statute limitations should not apply to him,” he said.

Rights groups said the judge ignored critical testimony that would have given weight to a prosecution of the once-feared ruler known as “Baby Doc” for crimes that include torture, false imprisonment and murder.

Mario Joseph, a lawyer whose Haitian-run firm is representing some of the Duvalier regime’s victims, said the judge “made so many errors” that they had compromised his pre-trial investigation.

“Crime against humanity can be murder, it can be torture as long as it fits certain requirements that fit here, and is clearly applicable to Duvalier case.

– Brian Concannon, Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Duvalier’s lawyer, Reynold Georges, had argued that all charges should be dismissed, and he said he would appeal Jean’s finding as soon as he received the paperwork.

He said the former dictator would appeal any decision to put him on trial for financial crimes, arguing that the supreme court had already cleared him of such charges following a previous investigation.

“The arguments that Duvalier’s lawyers have been making is that crime against humanity doesn’t apply because there is no such thing as crime against humanity in Haitian legal code,” Concannon said.

“But courts have looked at it in other countries, including international courts that are binding on Haiti, and they have said, you don’t need the words “crime against humanity,'” he said.

“Crime against humanity can be murder, it can be torture as long as it fits certain requirements that fit here, and is clearly applicable to Duvalier case.

“For people who represent individual the defendants it will be to appeal and for people who are working with prosecution, we and hope many others will certainly put pressure on the prosecution to appeal this case as contrary to Haitian and international law.”

‘Outrageous decision’

Duvalier inherited power from his father, Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier in 1971 and ruled Haiti for 15 years until his overthrow in 1986.

Under the father-and-son dictatorship, thousands of people were murdered, or were tortured in jails, such as the dreaded Fort Dimanche prison.

Duvalier, now 60, made a surprise return to his earthquake-stricken homeland in January last year after nearly 25 years exiled in France, opening himself up to possible prosecution.

More than 20 victims filed complaints shortly after Duvalier’s return, among them prominent Haitians such as Robert Duval, a former footballer who said he was beaten and starved during his 17 months of captivity in Fort Dimanche.

On Monday, Duval said he was stunned when he was notified about the judge’s decision.

“I don’t understand how he could’ve done that,” Duval said by telephone. “If that’s the case, that’s an outrageous decision.”

Haitian President Michel Martelly had given mixed signals about the case, last week recanting a suggestion from a day earlier that he might be open to a possible pardon for Duvalier, citing a need to end internal strife that has long dogged the country.


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