Friday, February 21, 2014

Haitian Court Calls for Investigation of Human Rights Charges in 'Baby Doc' Case

Yesterday saw a major breakthrough for efforts to try Haitian ex-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, also known as “Baby Doc,” for crimes against humanity, which had been stalled for months.

On Thursday, the three-judge panel overseeing the appeals court hearing the case issued a surprise decision. Overturning a lower court ruling, the judges maintained that Duvalier could be tried for human rights abuses, as Haiti is bound by international law and there is no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity.

In January 2012, a court ruled that allegations that Duvalier ordered murders, disappearances and torture during his 15 years in power could not be prosecuted, because the statute of limitations had expired. The legal charges against him were reduced to the financial crimes only, and if convicted of these he would face no more than five years in prison. 

As such, yesterday’s ruling is a huge victory for the human rights advocates who have fought to bring Duvalier to justice. But as the New York Times reports, the court stopped short of ordering a trial for human rights abuses to proceed. Instead, the panel’s presiding judge called on a colleague to investigate further. Judge Durin Junior Duret will be tasked with interviewing witnesses to alleged abuse, including former government officials, as well as victims who have not yet testified in the case.

This is will take some time, during which Duvalier’s defense team will likely appeal the decision. His lawyers have told the AP they will likely do so, and his leading defense attorney, Reynold Georges (a former senator who famously describes himself as “Haiti’s Johnnie Cochran”), told the Miami Herald that the decision was outside the court’s jurisdiction.

Meanwhile Duvalier continues to travel freely around the country, even attending official events with President Michel Martelly despite his having been placed under house arrest.

News Briefs
  • Political unrest in Venezuela continues to dominate headlines today. As Ultimas Noticias and the AFP report, the government of President Nicolas Maduro has ordered paratroopers to contain protests in the western border city of San Cristobal, in Tachira state. Yesterday, Maduro said he was weighing the possibility of declaring a “state of exception” in Tachira, placing it under martial law to restore order and crack down on what he called “fascist” attacks fueled by paramilitary elements from neighboring Colombia.  The New York Times reports on the muted media coverage of opposition protests in the country, which the paper highlights as part of a growing sense among the anti-Chavista camp that “the spaces to voice disagreement with the government are shrinking and disappearing.” The case for this argument was boosted yesterday following Maduro’s threat to expel the CNN news network from his country over what he said was biased coverage against his government.
  • The defense lawyers of Leopoldo Lopez have announced that officials have dropped the most serious charges against the opposition figure: terrorism and homicide. Nevertheless, Lopez will remain in preventative police custody as investigators prepare a case against him.
  • Venezuelan opposition blogger Fernando Toro, who appears to have temporarily come out of retirement to contribute to Caracas Chronicles, has written a harsh critique of international media coverage of the violence in Venezuela. More specifically, he accuses the press of overlooking an alleged repression campaign organized by authorities and Chavista groups against opposition members, which is said to have coincided with a “cadena” national address given by Maduro on Wednesday night. El Nacional and Ultimas Noticias have more details on the clash in Caracas’ Altamira neighborhood, where locals accuse security forces of firing at protesters and residential apartment buildings.
  • The Guardian has published an investigation which raise questions about Rafael Correa’s commitment to a plan to try to raise international donations to offset the cost of not drilling for oil in the Yasuni Amazon reserve. According to official documents seen by the paper, the Ecuadorean government was secretly negotiating a deal with a Chinese bank to drill for the oil even as it publicly said drilling would be a last-resort measure.
  • Yesterday, a court in Santiago convicted a Mapuche indigenous man of murder following a January 2013 arson attack that killed an elderly couple living on land claimed by Mapuche groups as their ancestral territory, but the judge ruled that it did not amount to terrorism. This comes as a blow to Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, who invoked a controversial Pinochet-era anti-terrorism law in the wake of the incident.
  • Following the death of Mexican man who was killed by U.S. border agents on Tuesday, the government of Mexico has issued an angry response to the incident. The Mexican Foreign Secretary released a statement saying the death of Jesus Flores-Cruz, who was shot after agents said he allegedly threw rocks at them, was “profoundly concerning.” As the Washington Post notes, however, this is an understatement, as Mexican authorities have grown increasingly alarmed by such border shootings and the perceived impunity of the shooters.
  • After a Nicaraguan court moved to try three men over the theft of two bananas, valued at around 32 cents, the AP reports that the decision is drawing scorn from lawyers and legal specialists in the country.  
  • NPR profiles opposition to Nicaragua’s plan to build a rival to the Panama Canal among environmentalists. While so far the plan appears far from concrete, it would involve dredging the largest source of freshwater in Central America, Lake Nicaragua. This, in turn, would likely have a disastrous impact on the local ecosystem, according to environmental experts.
  • This week’s issue of the Economist is out, and features an assessment of the relations between the two non-U.S. NAFTA partners, Canada and Mexico. Like relations with its more immediate northern neighbor, the Mexican government  has long-running disputes with Canada, especially over its refusal to lift a visa requirement for Mexican travelers.
  • Uruguayan journalist Guillermo Garat, who is known as the chronicler of his country’s marijuana policy reform movement, has a critical assessment of the dominant paradigm towards drugs in the region for Le Monde Diplomatique. In it, he makes a historical case for the region’s emergence as ground zero in the search for alternatives.

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