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Friday, February 8, 2013

The Jury is Still Out on Baby Doc Duvalier, the Witchdoctor and former ruler of Haiti

7 February 2013

Jean-Claude Duvalier fails to attend Haiti rights trial

The former ruler of Haiti Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier has failed to attend a hearing in Port-au-Prince on allegations of crimes against humanity.

His lawyer called it "careless" for the court to schedule the appeal audience on 7 February – the 27th anniversary of Mr Duvalier's flight into exile.

A judge agreed to postpone the former ruler's appearance to 21 February, and has not punished him for his absence.

This was the second time Mr Duvalier failed to appear at a court hearing.

Earlier, international human rights groups urged authorities not to drop the case against Mr Duvalier.

A number of activists, students and relatives of victims gathered outside the court, expecting the former ruler's appearance.

One of Mr Duvalier's lawyers says the case should be thrown out.

"Duvalier has been trialled in France, in Haiti and in Switzerland. He can't be trialled once again," Frizto Canton told AFP news agency.

However, Amnesty International and the Open Society Justice Initiative said Mr Duvalier "must not evade justice" for alleged crimes against humanity.

In January 2012, a court ruled that the alleged abuses had expired under Haiti's statute of limitations.

Mr Duvalier unexpectedly returned to Haiti in 2011 after 25 years in exile, prompting the Haitian authorities to open an investigation into crimes allegedly committed during his 1971-86 rule.
Embezzling, murder, torture

He denies all the accusations against him.

A judge decided that he should stand trial for embezzling public funds but ruled that the statute of limitations had run out on charges of murder, arbitrary arrest, torture and disappearances.

Alleged victims and their relatives have appealed against this ruling.

A first hearing was postponed when Mr Duvalier failed to appear in court on 31 January.

He was then ordered to attend Thursday's hearing, but was absent again.

International law requires that he should stand trial for alleged crimes against humanity, the Open Society Justice Initiative said.

Amnesty International has also argued that such crimes are not subject to a statute of limitations.

"With the case of Jean-Claude Duvalier, it is the whole credibility of the Haitian justice system which is at stake," Amnesty said.

Jean-Claude Duvalier was just 19 when he inherited the title of president-for-life from his father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, who had ruled Haiti since 1957.

Like his father, he relied on a brutal militia known as the Tontons Macoutes to control the country.

In 1986 he was forced from power by a popular uprising and US diplomatic pressure, and went into exile in France.

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