Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Haiti: Former Haitian leader must face charges for human rights abuses

Crowds outside the Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince after elections in 2011. UN Photo/Victoria Hazou

The United Nations today voiced its concern at reports that former Haitian President Jean-Claude Duvalier may not face charges relating to the serious human rights violations that took place during his 15-year rule, while stressing that justice must be ensured for the victims.

Serious human rights violations, including torture, rape, and extrajudicial killings have been extensively documented by Haitian and international human rights organizations to have occurred in the country during his reign, stated a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“The High Commissioner has consistently reminded Haiti of its absolute obligation to investigate these well-documented serious human rights violations and to prosecute those responsible for them,” Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva.

Human rights groups have long called for Mr. Duvalier to be arrested in relation to rights abuses carried out during his rule. The former president made a surprise return to Haiti in January 2011, after 25 years of exile in France and amidst a political crisis in his country.

Soon after Mr. Duvalier’s return, OHCHR offered Haitian authorities technical assistance for prosecuting crimes committed from 1971 to 1986 when he was in power.

Mr. Colville voiced concern about a string of reports quoting Haitian judicial officials as saying that Mr. Duvalier may only face charges of financial corruption rather than ones relating to human rights abuses during his time in power.

“We are extremely disappointed at reports that Mr. Duvalier may not be charged with any human rights crimes, despite numerous complaints by victims to the prosecutor,” he stated.

“It is clear under international law that there is no statute of limitations for such crimes, and the UN human rights office has provided technical assistance and legal advice stressing this point.”

Mr. Colville added that impunity for such serious crimes cannot be allowed to prevail.

“We urge the relevant authorities to ensure that justice is, belatedly, delivered to the many victims of human rights abuses committed under the government of Mr. Duvalier. There can be no true reconciliation and forgiveness without justice.”

The Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti, Michel Forst, also voiced his concern about the reports that Mr. Duvalier may not face charges for rights abuses.

“If information about Jean-Claude Duvalier is confirmed, then this would a very serious blow to the credibility of the process of judicial reform in Haiti,” he stated as he arrived in the country for an eight-day mission. “The existence of crimes committed by the Duvalier regime is well established and has been confirmed,” he added.