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Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Last Updated Wednesday, December 31, 1969

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Jean-Claude Duvalier Appears in Court, a Positive Step Towards Justice


Port-au-Prince, Haiti – Ordered by a court summons, former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier testified today before dozens of journalists and victims in a packed court room of Haiti’s Court of Appeals. No one thought Duvalier, who was in exile for 25 years, would face criminal charges for fraud and political violence.

Duvalier appeared frail and stoic, but answered questions from the court, victims’ lawyers and his own lawyers for almost four hours. Duvalier generally deflected questions about his control of the government and his knowledge about torture and disappearances during his reign. Instead he claimed that the country ran well under his government, compared to now, and that he tried to intervene to stop injustices.

The fact that the court forced Duvalier to answer questions about his crimes in a public hearing with journalists is encouraging. Haitian lawyer Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) called today “a good day for victims of Jean-Claude Duvalier and the Haitian justice system. Now we wait for an order from the Court of Appeals in which Duvalier is indicted for crimes against humanity. We are very close to this.”

The matter before the Court of Appeals will likely last at least a few more weeks. The court reconvenes next Thursday, March 7, to hear testimony from Duvalier’s victims about the human rights abuses such as torture and false imprisonment they suffered at the hands of the government. The court will also hear legal arguments from the parties about whether to sustain the victims’ appeal and try Duvalier for his political violence crimes, or to uphold the lower court's dismissal and only try Duvalier for fraud crimes.

Duvalier’s legal argument rests on Haiti’s ten-year statute of limitations that they argue precludes any murder claims. However, the widespread political torture, disappearances and murder during Duvalier’s reign constituted crimes against humanity according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.

According to Nicole Phillips, staff attorney with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, “these crimes cannot be barred by any statute of limitations pursuant to international law that is binding on Haiti. As a matter of law, the Court of Appeals must grant the victims’ appeal and allow Duvalier to stand trial for his both his political violence and fraud crimes. Given the events today, we are hopeful this court will issue a fair decision.”


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