Haiti: Former dictator finally appears in court

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Former dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, finally appears in court; UN refusal to compensate cholera victims causes anger; capital rocked by small earthquake;

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Former dictator finally appears in court

Former Haitian dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, finally appeared at a court hearing on Thursday after having failed to turn up on three previous occasions.

Duvalier, who ruled Haiti as “president for life” from 1971-1986, is facing charges of mass human rights abuses, including the disappearances and murders of thousands of Haitians, as well as of the embezzlement of public funds.

The fight to bring Duvalier to justice has been ongoing since he returned to Haiti in early 2011 after 25 years in exile. He had previously ignored 3 court summonses, but appeared in court on Thursday after a judge told him he would be jailed if he refused to attend.

During the hearing, the former dictator stated that there are ‘murders in every country’ and admitted that his regime had been responsible for the deaths and imprisonment of Haitians who he described as ‘delinquents’.

‘It is fundamentally wrong to say that the people who were imprisoned under the dictatorship were principally delinquents, when the regime didn’t stop terrorising the whole population at every turn,’ responded one of the victims to the former dictator’s comments at the hearing.

Jean Rénélus Éliacin, a Haitian citizen arrested in 1969 for ‘communist activity’, described his treatment in the infamous Port-au-Prince prison, Fort Dimanche, to Tout Haiti.

‘I had no involvement in any political activity when I was arrested in September 1969. I was under-fed and tortured during the 6 horrible months that I spend in Fort Dimanche’.

Both the international community and activists have hailed the ex-dictator’s appearance in court on Thursday as a victory for justice, whilst Amnesty International described the hearing as a ‘glimmer of hope’ for the victims of Duvalier’s regime.

‘What we would like to see is that Jean-Claude Duvalier is held accountable for these horrendous crimes which amount to crimes against humanity which were committed under his regime, while ensuring his right to receive a fair trial is respected,’ said Javier Zúñiga, special adviser for Amnesty International.

Earlier in January, a Haitian judge ruled that the former dictator should only face the charges relating to his financial crimes, stating that the human rights accusations had expired under Haitian national law.

Yet international agencies have highlighted that there can be no time limit for such crimes.

‘Haiti’s constitution recognizes that international law has supremacy over national law,’ reads a statement by Amnesty International.

The court is due to listen to the plaintiffs’ claims next Thursday, with the victims represented by prominent Haitian human rights lawyer, Mario Joseph.

UN cholera

The United Nations’ announcement on February 23 that it would not pay compensation to the victims of Haiti’s cholera epidemic has angered activists and victims, as well as the wider humanitarian community.

The announcement was made by UN spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, in response to a case filed by Boston-based Human Rights organisation, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).

The case was filed in 2011 and is aimed at making the UN take responsibility for its role in bringing cholera to the country, after sewage contaminated with the disease from the UN’s Nepalese contingent was dumped in the Arbonite region’s main water source in 2010.

The outbreak has since left almost 8000 Haitians dead and infected over 600,000. The IJDH’s legal case sought compensation of $100,000 for each bereaved fam­ily and $50,000 for each cholera sur­vivor.

However, on February 23 the UN stated the case was ‘not receiv­able’ under the 1946 con­ven­tion that grants the U.N. immu­nity for its actions.

IJDH representatives have criticised the decision, as well as the brevity of the UN’s response.

‘Immunity does not mean impunity’ said the organisation in an official statement.

The World Health Organization has predicted that there will be at least another 100,000 people diagnosed with cholera in Haiti this year alone.

‘It is disgraceful that the U.N. will not even consider compensating the thousands of families who have lost their children, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters due to the UN’s wrongdoing,’ said Mario Joseph, lead attorney for the victims.

Earthquake

The Caribbean country was also shaken by a small earthquake on Monday evening in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

Several people were forced to leave their houses but no deaths were reported due to the earthquake, which measured 3.5 on the Richter scale.

The country suffered a deadly earthquake in January 2010 which killed over 300,000 people and reached a magnitude of 7.