Guest column by the Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch Blog of the Center for Economic Policy Research (Washington DC)
Thursday, 21 February 2013--There were two significant and possibly historic legal developments in Haiti today.
After Jean-Claude Duvalier refused yet again to appear in court today, Judge Jean Joseph Lebrun issued an order for him to appear at the next hearing, meaning Duvalier will be escorted there by the authorities. Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch commented that the “ruling is a victory for Duvalier 's victims who have never given up hope of seeing him in a court of law,” adding that the “decision means even Duvalier is not above the law.”
In his stead, Duvalier’s lawyer, Reynold Georges, appeared, 90 minutes late, according to AP – after apparently initially saying he wouldn’t. He continued to display the Duvalier legal team’s contempt for the human rights plaintiffs, the media, and the court itself. According to Twitter updates from journalists, members of the Institute for Justice in Democracy in Haiti team and observers from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Georges held his own press conference of sorts in the court room during the proceedings. He is said to have told an Aljazeera reporter “your international law, keep it for yourself,” and to have said to the press that "I don't lose. I'm Haiti's Johnnie Cochran."
Georges also reportedly claimed that Amnesty International had at some point given his client a good grade on human rights, which led to laughter and the expected denials from Amnesty’s representative in the courtroom.
According to the AP, “Georges, a brash former senator, said he was confident that the Supreme Court would not only overturn the order to compel Duvalier's presence in court but also block the effort by victims of the Duvalier regime from getting the court to reinstate the charges.”
Attorney Mario Joseph of the Port au Prince Bureau des avocats internationaux (Office of International Lawyers) told the BBC that “Duvalier is trying to control the justice system like when he was a dictator.”
UN ups its cholera denial
No less outrageous, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon finally issued a statement today in response to the complaint filed by over 6,000 cholera victims calling for U.N. responsibility in causing the epidemic. Apparently no more interested in facing the music than Duvalier is, the statement reads:
Today, the United Nations advised the claimants’ representatives that the claims are not receivable pursuant to Section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. The Secretary-General telephoned Haitian President Michel Martelly to inform him of the decision, and to reiterate the commitment of the United Nations to the elimination of cholera in Haiti.
It goes on to say:
Since the outbreak began in 2010, the United Nations and its partners have worked closely with the people and Government of Haiti to provide treatment, improve water and sanitation facilities, and strengthen prevention and early warning. In December 2012, the Secretary-General launched an initiative for the Elimination of Cholera in Haiti, which aims to strengthen Haiti’s own National Cholera Elimination Plan through significant investments and the use of an oral cholera vaccine.
The Secretary-General again expresses his profound sympathy for the terrible suffering caused by the cholera epidemic, and calls on all partners in Haiti and the international community to work together to ensure better health and a better future for the people of Haiti.
Speaking to AFP, Brian Concannon of IJDH commented that, “This extreme interpretation of immunity is depriving our clients of any remedies for wrongs committed.” IJDH will now “pursue the case in court in either Haiti, the United States, or Europe,” according to Reuters.
In its statement, the UN touts its efforts to combat cholera, but as a letter from Congressman John Conyers (D – MI) and several others, addressed to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, says, “nearly two months after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced his initiative to support the plan [to combat cholera], only 10 percent of the funding has been secured and only one percent of this funding has been pledged from the United Nations itself.”
"…there is still no sign that implementation of the plan has begun," the letter reminds Rice, urging her to “to ensure that the United Nations continues to take a leading role in addressing the crisis,” since “The United Nations has a special responsibility to ensure this plan is funded.”
Haiti's 'Baby Doc' summoned to court after no-show
Associated Press, Feb. 21, 2012
UN will not compensate Haiti cholera victims, Ban Ki-moon tells Haiti's president
The Guardian, Feb. 21, 2013