Human rights groups harshly criticized a Haitian judge on Monday after he recommended former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier face trial only on corruption charges — and not for rights abuses during his brutal 15-year rule.
The organizations, both Haitian and foreign, said Investigative Magistrate Carves Jean ignored critical testimony that would have given weight to a prosecution of the once-feared ruler known as “Baby Doc” for crimes that include torture, false imprisonment and murder.
“The Haitian people deserve their day in court to prove Duvalier’s culpability, which is an essential part of any meaningful reconciliation process,” Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum director William O’Neill said.
Mario Joseph, a lawyer whose Haitian-run firm is representing some of the Duvalier regime’s victims, said the judge “made so many errors” that they compromised his pretrial investigation.
He said the judge disregarded testimony from eight people who wanted to file complaints alleging torture and false imprisonment.
Jean decided that Duvalier should go before a special court that handles relatively minor crimes. Duvalier, the former “president for life” who has been free to roam about the capital since his surprise return from exile last year, would face no more than five years in prison if convicted in that court.
Jean said the statute of limitations has run out on any human rights crimes committed during Duvalier’s 1971 to 1986 regime, but not on accusations of misappropriation of public funds. He did not explain his reasoning, although Duvalier is widely thought to have used money from the Haitian treasury to finance his life in exile.
The judge declined to give -reporters a copy of the 20-page order that he held in his hands in his office at the courthouse. The decision, based on a year-long investigation, must first be reviewed by the Haitian attorney general, as well as by Duvalier and the victims of his regime who filed complaints against the former leader, Jean said.
Duvalier lawyer Reynold Georges had argued that all charges should be dismissed and he said he would appeal Jean’s finding as soon as he received the paperwork.
“We’re going to appeal that decision ... and throw it in the garbage can,” Georges said. “I’m very sorry he did that — everybody will condemn this decision.”
Human Rights Watch, which has helped push for a trial, also called for an appeal — to overturn the judge’s decision against a trial on abuse charges.
“Those who were tortured under Duvalier, those whose loved ones were killed or simply disappeared, deserve better than this,” Human Rights Watch counsel Reed Brody wrote in an e-mail. “This wrong-headed ruling must be overturned on appeal if Haitians are to believe that their justice system can work to investigate the worst crimes.”
Amnesty International researcher Gerardo Ducos said he was puzzled by the judge’s findings, saying the “investigation was a sham and its conclusion a disgrace.”
He said that only a handful of victims were interviewed and that there was no effort to collect testimony from victims and witnesses outside Haiti.
Duvalier has posed a challenge to Haiti since his return from 25 years in exile in France. Haiti has a weak judicial system, with little history of successfully prosecuting even simple crimes, and the government is preoccupied with reconstruction from the devastating January 2010 earthquake.