International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Haiti and the Question of Temporal Jurisdiction

In a Huffington Post blog post “Crime Bar: Human Rights Claims Don’t Have Expiration Dates,” the author Katie Shay, the Legal and Policy Coordinator for the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable discusses the case of Jean-Claude “Baby-Doc” Duvalier. Last week a Haitian court ruled that the case against Duvalier would continue, despite his argument that the crimes he committed had happened too long ago for the court to try him. Duvalier was the president of Haiti from 1971 until 1986 and was accused of dozens of extrajudicial executions, detentions of political opponents, and of embezzling over $100 million from the country. In 2011 victims of forced disappearances and torture under the Duvalier regime brought a case against him charging him with corruption and crimes against humanity. At first the charges were dropped when a judge agreed that too much time had passed, but this new ruling overturns the decision stating that there is in fact a legal basis in international law to hold Duvalier. Though this does not mean that Duvalier will be convicted, Human Rights Watch spokesman Reed Brody’s remarks on this case were: “this is a green light. It says, ‘It says Go ahead, there is no legal obstacle to prosecuting these crimes.”

The International Criminal Court (ICC) does not have universal jurisdiction not only is it constrained by which countries it can enter, it cannot exercise jurisdiction over events before July 1st 2002. This blog post gives examples of a number of other instances in which a victim’s ability to bring human rights cases to court has been severely limited. I understand that one cannot simply put everyone on trial, but I wonder if there would be more justice if the temporal guideline on the ICC wasn’t so late. If someone tried to bring the Duvalier case to the ICC they wouldn’t have jurisdiction and would be unable to try the case. One victim of the regime said “I was able to hear people being beaten, dragged in the hallway, and I could hear women screaming as they were forced to have sexual relations with the guards.”  Duvalier is being brought to trial, but there is no guarantee of justice especially because of his close relationship with the current president. This corruption can oftentimes be somewhat mitigated in an international court, but because of the temporal restrictions this case will never be tried beyond the local. It is very possible that the victims would receive a more just trial in an international court, and I wonder whether one day the temporal restrictions of the ICC will be lifted.



One response to “Haiti and the Question of Temporal Jurisdiction

  1. angelalg March 15, 2014 at 12:49 am

    I think your post brought up a few really good questions, in particular, how can the ICC (given its general human rights, peace, and justice mission) justify a temporal limit and, in this case, why does the ICC have a temporal limit?

    After doing some research on these questions, I found an interesting post on the blog, Justice in Conflict (link below). The author, Mark Kersten, provides a counterpoint to your argument. In his article, “Why the ICC should Think Twice before Investigating Conflicts with Roots Before 2002,” he points to two main reasons that justify the temporal jurisdiction. (1) The Court would have incredible difficulties contributing to peace in regions where they were investigating older crimes (perhaps disrupting peace or halting other progress towards justice), and (2) the ICC would face the danger of selectivity — choosing among the myriad of human rights violations over the centuries could put the ICC in situations where its (possible) bias would be obvious and disruptive. Of the two points, I find the second most compelling. The first is important but seems to bring the peace versus justice debate to the forefront of the conversation (yet again), and that contains many pros and cons that could be argued either way. In any case, I thought the post was worth pointing out and I find Kersten’s arguments rather compelling.

    Personally, I feel I understand and support the reasons behind the ICC’s temporal jurisdiction; however, I find it is particularly difficult to swallow in regards to recent crimes that occurred in the 1990s (thus most likely not creating issues or conflict with Kersten’s two counterarguments). My two main thoughts on “solutions” would be (1) provide a temporal limit with a “decade” (or something) of flexibility. I would be interested to know why 2002 was made the precise date. (My hunch is it involved an attempt to please other countries who were hesitant to sign on to the treaty (e.g. the US).) And (2) perhaps if justice is the goal, consider other ways of providing justice for pre-2002 cases. As we have learned in this class, there are multiple ways to go about enforcing justice outside of the ICC’s work. Perhaps the creators of the Rome Treaty assumed that pre-2002 cases would be best addressed by other justice structures and, in an effort to maintain the ICC’s neutrality, decided to make a hard date and allow the Court to focus on acting as an arbitrator of justice for the future.

    Why the ICC should Think Twice before Investigating Conflicts with Roots Before 2002:

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