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US State Department sends experts to Haiti to strengthen Haitian courts

The US Department of State (DOS) [official website] on Monday dispatched a team of international law experts to Haiti to assess how to reinforce the Haitian judiciary's power and independence, according to Haitian Prime Minister Garry Conille [official website, in French]. Conille said that one of the experts' goals would be to investigate a ruling [AP report] involving former Haitian ruler Jean-Claude Duvalier [CBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The ruling, handed down two weeks ago, stated [JURIST report] that Duvalier will not face trial for crimes against humanity, including torture, rape and murder during his reign from 1971 to 1986. The ruling prompted an outcry from plaintiffs, as well as human rights groups, who have accused the Haitian government of influencing the judiciary. Though Haitian President Michel Martelly [NYT profile] has denied any involvement with the Duvalier case, Conille requested that the DOS's experts investigate the possibility of a corrupted ruling and help strengthen the judiciary, emphasizing the need for the courts to inspire confidence in the Haitian people.

The rule of law in Haiti has been a contentious issue recently. Last week, UN independent expert Michel Forst proclaimed that the rule of law is making significant progress in Haiti [JURIST report]. Forst focused on the establishment of judicial offices and the adoption of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights [text, PDF]. In January, a Haitian judge convicted eight police officers [JURIST report] of shooting and killing at least ten prisoners following the January 2010 earthquake. In December, the UN urged an investigation [JURIST report] into alleged torture and unlawful killings perpetrated by the Haitian National Police (HNP) [official website, in French]. In September, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called on Haitian authorities to prosecute Duvalier [JURIST report] for crimes against humanity. In July, a UN rights expert requested that Haiti prosecute Duvalier [JURIST report] and improve its human rights record.

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