The strangest argument against trying Jean Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier: Haiti is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which simply means the treaty that brought into existence the International Criminal Court (ICC).
That’s what Mr Duvalier’s lawyers appeared to be arguing today, Thursday, and one has to wonder why human rights are now held to be practically imprisoned by the ICC.
The ICC does not – and cannot – have jurisdiction over any case that attempts to nail Mr Duvalier because the alleged crimes occurred during the course of his 15-year rule (1971-86). That was before the Rome Statute came into force. It is not retrospective and cannot be used for anything that happened before July 1, 2002. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights can’t hear any charges against Mr Duvalier either – it only has jurisdiction in cases brought against a state, not individuals, even if they were once heads of state.
But back to the ICC. Never mind that Israel, the US and Sudan have said they are not a party to it and India and China remain unpersuaded of its virtues. It is specifically designed to complement – not replace – a country’s justice system and can exercise its jurisdiction only when a national court is unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute alleged crimes.
On that front, legal experts say that Haiti is doing surprisingly fine at the moment. At least in making a public attempt to hear, assess and review arguments and counter-arguments in a sensitive case. One so delicate that many believe nothing but a Truth and Reconciliation Commission will do.
Even so, more difficult times – and decisions – may lie ahead. Kenbe fem. Or hang in there, as they say in kreyol.