Haiti and the Question of Temporal Jurisdiction
March 10, 2014
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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.