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UN rights expert urges Haiti to improve rights, try Duvalier

The UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] Kyung-wha Kang [official profile] spoke Tuesday on the importance of Haiti improving its human rights record [text], including trying ex-president Jean-Claude Duvalier [BBC backgrounder]. Stressing the importance of rebuilding after Haiti's recent earthquake, Kang said reform must create a new focus on human rights and equality in the nation. A major point of this is trying Duvalier, but Kang also alluded to the possibility of trying Duvalier on an international level.

Impunity for past violations remains a major concern. In January of this year, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, reminded the Haitian authorities of their obligation to investigate the serious human rights violations that took place during the rule of Jean Claude Duvalier, and for which no statute of limitations exists under international law. Today, I reiterate the High Commissioner's offer of support and technical assistance to the authorities of Haiti and I hope to work with the new authorities in this regard. In addition to the judicial process, I fully support the initiative to establish a Truth Commission. I hope it will thoroughly examine this period of Haitian history as well as others, promote memory and reconciliation, and raise awareness of the need to protect and promote human rights, particularly among young persons.
More than 20 criminal suits have been filed against Duvalier [AP report], but the case is reportedly moving slowly, with Duvalier only undergoing questioning sessions before a judge. His defense attorney asserted that the statute of limitations in Haiti has expired and that Duvalier should be a free citizen. Duvalier is currently under house arrest.

Duvalier, also known as "Baby Doc," is the son of former Haitian leader Francois Duvalier, or "Papa Doc," whom he succeeded as leader [BBC report] in 1971. Following a tumultuous reign, which included accusations of thousands of murders by his regime [HRW report], Duvalier fled Haiti in 1986, and had since resided in France, until his return to Haiti in January. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] announced [JURIST report] that Haitian authorities will investigate crimes committed against humanity [press release] allegedly committed under the rule of Duvalier during the 1970s and 80s. This came shortly after Duvalier was detained and charged [JURIST report] with corruption, embezzlement and a number of other crimes. Four people, including former UN spokesperson Michele Montas, filed criminal complaints [JURIST Report] as well. The four were allegedly imprisoned and subjected to torture [Le Nouvelliste report, in French] during Duvalier's presidency. Three of them were forced into exile. Duvalier's lawyers claimed their client is the target of government persecution.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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