A Haitian appellate court ruled on Thursday that former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier [CBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] can be charged under international law with crimes against humanity committed during his rule. Haitian authorities reopened a criminal case against Duvalier three years ago after he returned to the country from a 25-year exile in France. The charges against Duvalier include murder and torture of political opponents and corruption. However, the case has been stalled for almost a year while a lower court ruled [JURIST report] the statute of limitations had expired. Duvalier assumed the role of president at 19 and ruled for 15 years. During this time, the army and paramilitary forces have been blamed for hundreds of murders and disappearances. Following widespread riots, Duvalier fled to France in 1986, effectively ending his family's rule in Haiti.
The international community has continued to pressure Haiti to move forward in this case. Last month human rights groups condemned [JURIST report] the pace of the proceedings against Duvalier. Last March Duvalier appeared before a Haitian court [JURIST report] for the first time after previously rebuffing summonses for alleged human rights abuses from 1971-1986. The lawyer for the plaintiffs criticized the previously rebuffed summonses as evidence of Haiti's failing justice system. The legal proceedings began with Duvalier's lawyer requesting that the proceedings take place behind closed doors. The summons followed a previous order [JURIST report] by a Haitian appeals court for Duvalier to appear for the hearings, a directive which the ex-president failed to follow.