Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier snubbed a judge’s order to attend a court hearing yesterday to determine if he will be indicted on human rights violations committed under his ruthless 15-year regime.
Reynold Georges, Duvalier’s defense attorney and former senator, claimed that he filed an appeal of the judge’s order and asserted that he was confident that the Supreme Court would overturn the decision to force Duvalier to appear in court as well as put a stop to accusations brought forth by countless victims of Duvalier’s rule. Georges boasted, “We’re waiting for the Supreme Court decision and we’re going to win, I don’t lose. I’m Haiti’s Johnnie Cochran.”
The victims’ attorneys urged the judge to arrest the former leader for not being present in court. Judge Jean Joseph Lebrun of Haiti’s Court of Appeals responded that Duvalier had no grounds to appeal to the Supreme Court at this juncture and demanded that the prosecutor bring the former leader to court “without delay.” It was not clear whether there would be any consequences for not adhering to court orders.
Duvalier inherited power from his father, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier in 1971 and ruled Haiti until he was overthrown in 1986. Thousands of people were murdered or tortured in prison during this time. Duvalier made an unexpected return to his earthquake-stricken homeland in January 2011 after nearly 25 years in exile in France, opening himself up to possible prosecution. Duvalier was also charged with embezzling between $300 million and $800 million of assets during his presidency however a court dismissed the embezzlement charge, which would carry a maximum of five years in prison.
The human rights community is in an uproar. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay declared in Geneva that “the State has an obligation to ensure that there is no impunity for serious violations of human rights which occurred in the past.”Pillay stressed that there are no statute of limitations of any kind in international law for grave violations of human rights which include murder, torture, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearances, among others.
This is not the first time Duvalier has skipped his court hearing. He has done so twice this year and continues to travel the country freely despite a court ruling placing him under house arrest.