Haiti court postpones Duvalier appeals hearing

Last Updated: Thu, Feb 07, 2013 23:45 hrs

-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A Haitian judge on Thursday postponed a court hearing on possible human rights abuse charges against Jean-Claude Duvalier because the former dictator known as "Baby Doc" failed to show up.

Judge Jean Joseph Lebrun of Haiti's Court of Appeals accepted a request by the defense team to reschedule the hearing because it fell on the 27th anniversary of Duvalier's ouster.

Defense attorney Reynold Georges said that given the anniversary, there could be trouble in the streets if the judge decided to drop the prosecution of Duvalier. Critics of the ex-dictator and his supporters staged dueling demonstrations outside.

Lebrun didn't punish Duvalier for ignoring an order to appear before the court but said Duvalier would be arrested if he didn't show up for the new hearing Feb. 21.

The hearing involves an appeal filed by people who say they were abused by Duvalier's government, which ruled from 1971 to 1986. The complainants want charges of human rights abuses reinstated against him.

A judge recommended last year that Duvalier face prosecution only for financial crimes instead of abuse charges filed against him after he returned to Haiti in 2011 following 25 years in exile.

That judge said there were no grounds to prosecute Duvalier for alleged crimes against humanity because the statute of limitations had expired under Haitian law — an argument the defense has made. The defense has appealed the judge's recommendation to prosecute Duvalier for alleged financial crimes.

Human rights groups in Haiti and abroad argue there are international rulings that show crimes against humanity are exempt from a statute of limitations, and they say there is ample evidence of abuse to prosecute Duvalier.

The 61-year-old Duvalier would face no more than five years in prison if convicted of the financial crimes, which include embezzlement of public funds.

Duvalier has remained free during the court proceedings. The court placed him under house arrest but he has traveled the country without consequence. The Haitian government in December renewed Duvalier's diplomatic passport as is customary for former presidents, his attorney said.

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