Duvalier to appear in court

Two years ago, to the surprise of many, Duvalier returned to his impoverished homeland after 25 years in exile in France.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Thursday February 7, 2013 – Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier is scheduled to appear court on Thursday where it will be determined if he should face trial on embezzlement and human rights allegations.

But his lawyer, Reynold Georges, told reporterson Wednesday that the former president would prefer not to do so on the anniversary of his fall from power and flight into exile 27 years ago.

“He wants the date to be changed,” said Georges, who plans to reiterate Duvalier’s written request for a postponement at the hearing.

“A lot of organizations and human rights people are saying, a bunch of ‘blah, blah,’ that if the court chooses that date, it’s because they want to throw out all the charges against him,” he added.

“We have nothing to hide,” Georges continued. “He will be cleared.”

Two years ago, to the surprise of many, Duvalier returned to his impoverished homeland after 25 years in exile in France.

Shortly afterwards, prosecutors re-opened a corruption case against him and dozens of victims from his regime brought human rights complaints against him.

Last week, the head of Haiti’s Court of Appeals, Jean Joseph Lebrun, ordered Duvalier to appear in court after postponing the start of the appeals hearing in his case.

The ex-president, who has been a no-show at previous court hearings, is appealing last year’s decision by an investigative judge that he should be tried on plundering Haiti’s coffers during his 15-year rule.

At the same time, alleged victims of human rights violations under Duvalier rule are appealing the same judge’s decision to dismiss the more serious crimes against humanity.

Lebrun had ruled that the statute of limitations under Haitian law had run out, despite arguments by human rights lawyers and advocates that there is no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity.

“The law is very clear,” said Reed Brody of the Washington-based Human Rights Watch. “Haiti has a legal binding obligation to investigate, and if appropriate, prosecute the crimes committed under Duvalier,”

Victims and human rights groups, including Haiti’s Collective Against Impunity, which includes 22 of Duvalier’s alleged victims, have heightened calls for Duvalier to face justice.

The London-based human rights watchdog, Amnesty International and the Open Society Justice Initiative said on Wednesday that it was important for the court proceedings against Duvalier to continue and victims’ rights be respected.

It is the whole credibility of the Haitian justice system which is at stake,” said Javier Zúñiga, Amnesty International’s special advisor.

“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,” he said.

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