Human rights groups were outraged after Judge Carves Jean on Jan. 30 said former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier couldn’t be tried for human rights violations during his 1971-86 regime because of a statute of limitations. The judge said he would only have to stand trial for misappropriation of public funds.
Torture, forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions are among the allegations against Duvalier. Victims and their relatives are planning an appeal.
International organizations, including the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or IACHR, opposed the judge’s ruling. The IACHR said it denies victims “their rights to the truth, justice and reparation,” and said that Haitian authorities have an international obligation to investigate and punish those responsible for such crimes.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that there is extensive evidence about the crimes committed by Duvalier’s government.
“We are extremely disappointed at reports that Mr. Duvalier may not be charged with any human rights crimes, despite numerous complaints by victims to the prosecutor,” Colville said in a news conference in Geneva. “It is clear under international law that there is no statute of limitations for such crimes, and the UN human rights office has provided technical assistance and legal advice stressing this point.”
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations have also expressed opposition to the ruling and said it only creates an environment of impunity.
Javier Zúñiga, an advisor at Amnesty International who investigated the crimes perpetrated during Duvalier’s regime, called the ruling “shameful.”
Judge Jean justified his ruling saying that there was not enough proof to tie Duvalier to the human rights crimes. During Duvalier’s government, thousands of people were killed, disappeared or fled into exile, victims of a paramilitary group called “Tonton Macoutes,” whose official name was the National Security Volunteer Militia.
Duvalier, 60, known as “Baby Doc,” took an indefinite presidential term after his father François “Papa Doc” Duvalier died in 1971, after 14 years in office. Duvalier was ousted on Feb. 7, 1986 in a military coup headed by Major Henry Namphy, who governed from 1986-88. Duvalier fled to France and returned to Haiti a year ago.