Haiti’s former ruler Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier has appeared in court for a hearing to determine if he can be charged with crimes against humanity.
At the hearing he denied responsibility for abuses carried out during his time as president, between 1971 and 1986.Human rights groups say hundreds of political prisoners were tortured or killed under his rule.He returned to Haiti in 2011 after spending 25 years in exile in France.Opponents and supporters of Mr Duvalier turned out for the hearing, with some of his alleged victims just metres away from him in the packed courtroom.It was the first time he had faced them, having failed to attend previous hearings.
Supporters dressed in the black and red colours symbolic of Mr Duvalier’s rule chanted “Long live Duvalier” as he entered the courthouse.Mr Duvalier’s lawyers had asked for the session to be held in private, arguing he was unwell.The hearing was requested by his alleged victims, who want to see him stand trial for crimes against humanity. Last year, a judge ruled that Mr Duvalier should be tried for embezzling public funds but that the statute of limitations had run out on charges of murder, arbitrary arrest, torture and disappearances.
That ruling is contested by human rights organisations, which argue that under international law there is no time limit on prosecuting crimes against humanity.Mr Duvalier is himself appealing against the decision to try him on any charges.At the hearing, he claimed to have had limited power over individual government officials who “had their own authority”.Now a three-judge panel must decide whether the former leader should face trial.
Three previous attempts to hold the hearing had to be postponed when Mr Duvalier failed to turn up.Mr Duvalier was just 19 when he inherited the title of president-for-life from his father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who had ruled Haiti since 1957.Like his father, he relied on a brutal militia known as the Tontons Macoutes to control the country.In 1986 he was forced from power by a popular uprising and US diplomatic pressure, and went into exile in France. – BBC