Former strongman Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier refused to attend a court appearance today to decide if he should be tried for crimes against humanity.
The hearing was first scheduled last October but had been delayed numerous times and Duvalier had previously skipped his appeal court hearing twice. Ironically, it was Duvalier’s lawyers who sought the latest delay two weeks ago after seeking Haiti's Supreme Court to overturn the court order.
Despite the bravado of one of Duvalier’s attorneys who boasted, “I'm Haiti's Johnnie Cochran,” Judge Jean-Joseph Lebrun ordered the ex-ruler to appear in front of him on February 28th.
“There are grounds for the court to declare that Jean-Claude Duvalier's appearance is imperative. It is therefore appropriate that he be brought here to appear before the court,” declared Lebrun in front of a packed courthouse that included relatives of his victims, attorneys and journalists.
Haitian authorities opened an investigation against Duvalier shortly after he retuned from exile in January 2011 and subsequently charged him with corruption, theft, and crimes against humanity. A court dropped these charges last year though human rights observers and victims’ families lodged an appeal to that decision.
“The State has an obligation to ensure that there is no impunity for serious violations of human rights which occurred in the past”, said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay earlier today.
In 1971 “Baby Doc” took over for his father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, as president-for-life and over the next fifteen years ruled Haiti with an iron fist. Much like his dad, “Baby Doc” deploying the Tonton Macoute militia to murder and torture hundreds (if not thousands) of opponents. He was overthrown in a popular uprising in 1986 and fled to France where he lived until returning to Haiti more than two years ago.
While there’s uncertainty over whether or not Duvalier will go on trial, another former Latin American dictator will not escape the long arm of the law:
A Guatemalan court has moved up by five months the trial of former strongman Gen. Efrain Rios Montt and one of his closest collaborators for genocide and crimes against humanity, a lawyer involved in the case told EFE Wednesday…
The trial will be the first of any Guatemalan ruler for the massacres and atrocities of the civil war. Rios Montt presided over the bloodiest phase of a conflict that claimed more than 200,000 lives. Most of the dead were Indian peasants slaughtered by the army and its paramilitary allies.Video Source– YouTube via Al Jazeera English (Video uploaded in January 2011).
Online Sources – LAHT, Prensa Latina, GlobalPost, Huffington Post, haitilibre.com, The Latin Americanist