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The Duvalier Case: What Is at Stake at the Court of Appeals

The Collectif contre l’impunité, a coalition of several Haitian human rights groups and advocates,  released the following statement on the court proceedings to date regarding Jean-Claude Duvalier standing for trial in Haiti today. 

Jean-Claude Duvalier commandant en chef

Port-au-Prince, February 27, 2013 — On Thursday February 28 at 10 am, the Court of Appeal will hold its next hearing on the case of ex-President-for­ Life Jean Claude Duvalier. During the previous session last Thursday, February 21, the Court took two important decisions: It issued an arrest warrant against the accused and it ruled that the action filed by the defendant’s lawyers to the Supreme Court cannot suspend the ongoing hearings at the appellate court.

What is at stake?

The State which had pressed charges against Duvalier -on April 29, 2008 and on January 19, 2011- has not reacted to the lower court ruling of January 27, 2012, by the investigative judge. Duvalier appeals against accusations of financial crimes. The victims have also contested the decision to exclude, from the charges, crimes against humanity (illegal and arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, cruel treatment , murder, extra judiciary executions, disappearance and forced deportation , inhuman and degrading acts, etc.), so that a proper prosecution can take place. Without it there might not be a Duvalier case, as the State might decide to waive prosecution on the financial crimes. Duvalier could then access the funds currently frozen in Switzerland.

Some highlights from the February 21 hearing (from 11’45 am to 2’45 pm)

1. On the basis of its appeal to the Supreme Court, the defense counsel assumed that the hearing would not take place. However the decision to hold a hearing or not is a prerogative of the court.

2. The civil parties, represented by the law firms of attorney Jean-Joseph Exume and Mario Joseph, argued:

a. For this emblematic case, the country is expecting the judicial system to act in complete independence, with rigor, impartiality, and respect for the law. The Haitian judicial proceedings are under close scrutiny at the international level at a time when former dictators are on trial and when grave violations of human rights are neither accepted nor tolerated. The Court of Appeal took two important decisions on February 7th: that Duvalier appears personally before the court and the status of civil parties for the plaintiffs.

b. The civil parties asked for a roll call. It was duly noted by the Court that the defendant and his lawyer, Attorney

Reynold George were absent, a fact that the civil parties qualified as contempt for the court.

c. Three requests were made to the judges :

• To issue an arrest warrant against the accused : search, arrest and detention, so he can be available to the

Court.

• To reject the demand of the defense counsel for a relinquishment by the Appellate Court, since the defense counsel has no authority to do so.

• To continue the pre-trial hearings:

./ There is no legal obligation for the Appellate Court to suspend its proceedings, because of the defendant ‘s appeal to the Supreme Court.

./ That appeal is a maneuver to paralyze the judicial system. When a court appearance is requested , introducing an appeal to the higher court would then be enough to stop the investigation for an unlimited period .

./ Such recourse is premature, since it can only be used following a decision of the Appellate Court to accept or reject the initial decision. The Court has yet to rule on that decision but is pursuing the case.

3. The defense counsel

During the course of the hearing, defense attorney, Me Georges arrived. He was later joined by Me Fritso Canton. In spite of this irregular behavior, noted by the civil parties, both the Court and the civil parties acknowledged that late arrival of the defense counsel. They argued:

a. That they had appealed to the Supreme Court to stop the hearings. The appellate judges declared that they had not been informed since the proper procedures had not been followed.

b. That the Court of Appeal could not add other accusations against Duvalier as he had been cleared .

c. That most of the plaintiffs had withdrawn their action.

d. In Duvalier ‘s name, the defense counsel inexplicably filed charges, as plaintiff, against any individual that would testify against him, for the prejudice and grievances that would be brought to this “honest man”.

4. The prosecution expressed his opposition to Duvalier’s personal appearance before the court and to the arrest

warrant. He admitted however that the appeal to the Supreme Court could not stop the hearings.

5. The Court decided on the arrest warrant and the continuation of the hearings.

Daniele Magloire, Coordinator

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