Two years after his return to Haiti following 25 years in exile, ex-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier is due in court Thursday as a judge mulls whether he can be tried for crimes against humanity.
Known as “Baby Doc,” Duvalier was the world’s youngest head of state when, at the age of just 19, he succeeded his late autocratic father Francois “Papa Doc” in 1971.
His rule was initially seen as more benign, before he too adopted hardline dictatorial measures. He was eventually overthrown in 1986 and spent a quarter of a century in exile in France.
Since his return a year after the 2010 earthquake that devastated the Port-Au-Prince region and left more than a quarter of a million dead, several Haitian individuals and groups have attempted to bring charges against him.
Former opposition figures have accused him of deploying the feared Tonton Macoute militia and of complicity in murder, torture and kidnapping.
But, to the disgust of human rights organizations, a Haiti court decided last year that too much time had passed for him to be charged with crimes against humanity, which are protected by a statute of limitations.
On Thursday, a Haitian judge is expected to hear an appeal against that decision, although Duvalier’s lawyer Fritzo Canton told AFP that the defence had lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court and therefore the other court was taken off the case.
Amnesty International has sent an observer to Thursday’s hearing. The appeal being considered was brought by victims of human rights violations.
Duvalier had initially been supposed to appear in court on February 7, but failed to show up and instead sent a letter accusing the judge of taking the plaintiff’s side and asking for the hearing to be postponed.
February 7 was the anniversary of the 1986 day when Duvalier was overthrown, and Canton argued it had been “unwise” for the judge to summon him to appear on “a date so charged with resentment and emotion.”
On Wednesday, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reminded Haiti of its duty to probe, prosecute and punish human rights violations.
“The IACHR reiterates that Haiti, as a state party to the American Convention on Human Rights, has an international obligation to investigate and if necessary punish those responsible for the gross human rights violations committed during the regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier,” it said in a statement.