Dossier: Jean-Claude Duvalier's day in court Feb. 28, 2013

Former Haiti President ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier grilled in court over his regime

By Jacqueline Charles, The Miami Herald, posted on Thu, Feb. 28, 2013

The past and present collided in Haiti on Thursday as a weak and frail-looking Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier showed up in court, submitting to questions about his dictatorial past — and telling appeals court judges that Haiti was “a better country” under his 15-year rule.

Dismissive at times and barely audible, a mumbling Duvalier sat next to a clerk who took copious notes by hand and read his answers to a three-judge panel.

Among the probing questions asked by lead Judge Jean-Joseph Lebrun: Did executions and torture occur between 1971 and 1986? When Lebrun pressed him about his time as president and asked if he “were aware of murders, executions, political imprisonment,’’ Duvalier responded, “Murder existed in all countries. I did not intervene in . . . policies.’’ Duvalier said he had “a positive record, and in all areas.”

Human rights advocates and victims who accuse Duvalier of failing to prevent or punish human rights abuses while he was president hailed the moment as historic. Others cautioned that the hearing was the first step in a long struggle to try the former dictator for corruption and crimes against humanity.

“Whatever happens next, Haitians will remember the image of their former dictator having to answer questions about the repression carried out under his rule,” said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch. “This is already a historic victory in a country where the rich and powerful have always been above the law.”

Haiti’s Appeals Court has been tasked with deciding whether it should uphold or dismiss an investigative judge’s ruling on Duvalier — a once-feared strongman who took power at age 19 when his father Dictator-for-Life Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier died. The investigative judge ruled that Duvalier cannot be tried on human rights abuses because the 10-year statute of limitations has run out but that he should be tried for corruption.

The case involves some 30 Haitians who accused Duvalier of failing to prevent or punish crimes under his command, ordering arrests and prolonged detention and in some cases deaths, and being an “accomplice” to crimes committed by subordinates. They want the appeals court to reinstate their claims.

Judges did not make a decision and will continue the hearing next Thursday.

The case has divided Haitians. Duvalier still has supporters, and some gathered outside of the Port-au-Prince courtroom to cheer him on. But others insist he could be held responsible for what happened while he was president. Since Duvalier’s 1986 flight to exile amid popular revolt, Haiti has struggled with democracy and stability.

Alix “Boulon” Fils-Aime, who spent 18 months imprisoned on the grounds of the National Palace in a 5-by-8 cell before he was shipped into exile, said the hearing was both historic and somewhat ironic. “It would have been unthinkable during the Duvalier regime to express oneself in court, and there he was — benefiting from the people’s struggle for democracy,” Fils-Aime said.

Although he sat a few feet behind Duvalier, Fils-Aime said the two barely made eye contact. At one point, Lebrun admonished Duvalier’s longtime companion, Veronique Roy, not to answer on his behalf.

“[Duvalier] screwed up all his answers. He just twisted things,” Fils-Aime said. “He knew and he tried to shift the blame toward dead people.”

It was the first time Fils-Aime had seen Duvalier since the former president made a dramatic return to Haiti two years ago after 25 years in exile in France. “As a human being I felt some empathy,” said Fils-Aime. But, he said, “I am not interested in his personal suffering. I don’t want what I went through for him or anybody. But there must be a correcting of the wrongs; there must be justice.”

Duvalier’s lawyers tried unsuccessfully to have the proceedings closed. Duvalier has filed his own appeal in the case, rejecting the investigative judge’s claims that he should be tried on corruption charges.

But as the Duvalier drama came to a close Thursday, another drama appeared to be playing out. Haitian Sen. John Joel Joseph told Radio Kiskeya that former Presidents René Préval and possibly Jean-Bertrand Aristide, had been summoned to answer questions in an unrelated case: the murder of journalist Jean Dominique.

Dominique, a close friend of Préval, was assassinated in 2000. Dominique’s wife, Michèle Montas, was among the first to file rights complaints against Duvalier after his return. Montas was not in the courtroom Thursday but said there is “an obvious attempt to politicize the Duvalier case by introducing Jean’s case into the mix.”

“Suddenly pulling the case out of a hat at a time when Jean-Claude Duvalier is expected to be heard by the court is preposterous,’’ she said.


Haiti's 'Baby Doc' answers questions in hearing

By TRENTON DANIEL, Associated Press, published in The Miami Herald,  posted online on Thu, Feb. 28, 2013

Former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier appeared in a Haitian court for the first time Thursday after repeatedly shunning previous summonses, answering questions on whether he should be charged with human rights abuses during his brutal 1971-86 regime. It was also the first time for the plaintiffs to see the former ruler known as "Baby Doc" answer direct questions about the widespread abuses associated with his rule.

Activists and opponents applauded as they saw Duvalier arrive for the hearing wearing a navy blue suit and gray tie, and sit facing the three-judge panel. Near him sat his defense attorneys and his longtime partner (Veronique Roy), who did not remove her sunglasses during the proceedings.

The session was a "historic victory in a country where the rich and powerful have always been above the law," said Reed Brody, counsel and a spokesman for Human Rights Watch. "Who'd have thought that Duvalier would be forced one day to face his victims in a court of law, to submit to questioning about his alleged crimes, and to listen to the names of people who were tortured?"

An attorney for the plaintiffs, Mario Joseph, said the hearing was evidence that Haiti's long dysfunctional justice system "was functioning." Duvalier had ignored three earlier summonses without consequences but showed up Thursday after a judge warned that he would be jailed if he shunned a fourth.

Several dozen supporters of Duvalier cheered as the former president-for-life shuffled into the courtroom.

The hearing began with arguments over legal proceedings, with Duvalier's defense attorneys initially requesting a closed-door hearing. Lawyers for the plaintiffs asked Duvalier to speak into a microphone but he refused, and the judge accepted. Instead of speaking to the court, the gaunt-looking Duvalier mumbled his responses to a clerk who sat at his side and recorded them in a ledger book. Then the clerk read the answers aloud in French to the judges.

"I have a positive record and this is in all areas," Duvalier told the court.

The judges also asked him about political prisoners who were locked up, tortured and killed under his regime. They also asked him about a prominent radio journalist who went into exile with his family. And they asked him if he was aware of the murders, executions and political imprisonment that happened during his reign.

"Murders exist in all countries," Duvalier said, who periodically wiped his forehead with a white cloth. In between questions, he looked at the ceiling and rolled his eyes.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs asked Duvalier if he knew of the political prisoners at a notorious prison facility called Fort Dimanche.

"All kinds of delinquents were there," among them drug dealers, Duvalier said.

Robert Duval, a former soccer star who spent 17 months locked up in Fort Dimanche, is among the plaintiffs. During the proceedings, he sat at the edge of his seat and chewed on his nails.

Duval said it was a small triumph that Duvalier was forced to speak before him and others who say they suffered during the dictatorship. "The whole process has started," Duval said. "We're starting to see his true character."

The steamy courtroom was packed with journalists, activists, Duvalier supporters and representatives from embassies, including the U.S. The crowd, however, remained quiet overall, though the absence of a speaker system made it difficult to hear court discussions.

Thousands were imprisoned, tortured or killed for opposing Duvalier's regime, and he wielded his influence through a private militia known as the Tonton Macoutes. He became president at age 19 after the death of his predecessor and father, "Papa Doc" Duvalier. "Baby Doc" was ousted in 1986 in a popular revolt.

Duvalier made a surprising return to Haiti in early 2011 after spending 25 years in exile. While in exile, Duvalier remained quiet except for a September 2007 radio address in which he apologized for wrongs committed under his rule and urged supporters to rally around his fringe political party.

A lower court judge ruled in January 2012 that Duvalier should only face charges on alleged financial crimes. The defense and plaintiffs both appealed, setting the stage of these hearings. The defense argues that Duvalier should not face charges of any type, while the plaintiffs are seeking the reinstatement of human rights charges.

The court is scheduled to listen to the plaintiffs next Thursday. Duvalier has not been ordered to attend.


Haiti's ex-ruler 'Baby Doc' Duvalier attends court

BBC News, March 1, 2013
Haiti's former ruler Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier has appeared in court for a hearing to determine if he can be charged with crimes against humanity.

At the hearing he denied responsibility for abuses carried out during his time as president, between 1971 and 1986. Human rights groups say hundreds of political prisoners were tortured or killed under his rule. He returned to Haiti in 2011 after spending 25 years in exile in France.

Opponents and supporters of Mr Duvalier turned out for the hearing, with some of his alleged victims just metres away from him in the packed courtroom. It was the first time he had faced them, having failed to attend previous hearings.

Supporters dressed in the black and red colours symbolic of Mr Duvalier's rule chanted "Long live Duvalier" as he entered the courthouse.

Mr Duvalier's lawyers had asked for the session to be held in private, arguing he was unwell. The hearing was requested by his alleged victims, who want to see him stand trial for crimes against humanity.

'President for Life'

Last year, a judge ruled that Mr Duvalier should be tried for embezzling public funds but that the statute of limitations had run out on charges of murder, arbitrary arrest, torture and disappearances. That ruling is contested by human rights organisations, which argue that under international law there is no time limit on prosecuting crimes against humanity.

Mr Duvalier is himself appealing against the decision to try him on any charges.

At the hearing, he claimed to have had limited power over individual government officials who "had their own authority". Now a three-judge panel must decide whether the former leader should face trial.

Three previous attempts to hold the hearing had to be postponed when Mr Duvalier failed to turn up.

Mr 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.

Analysis,  by Mark Doyle, BBC international development correspondent

When he entered the packed courtroom, it was as if a myth had been shattered. Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, "president for life", was surely one of the untouchables. But there he was - just a slight, ordinary-looking man in a dark business suit.

A group of his alleged victims sat just a few metres away. For some, it was the first time they had seen him in the flesh.

The purpose of the hearing, in the Port au Prince Court of Appeal, was to determine whether Mr Duvalier should stand trial for crimes against humanity.

A group of human rights lawyers - sharp Haitian attorneys, backed by better-resourced colleagues from abroad - say that of course he should. Baby Doc's own legal representatives, and his supporters - some of whom demonstrated outside the courtroom - said a former head of state should not suffer such indignity. But today these arguments seemed to be small details.

The really astonishing thing was that Mr Duvalier was in the same court of law as some of his alleged victims. History was being made.