Haiti: still defiant, Duvalier finally goes to court

After refusing to appear in court three times in a little more than a month, on Feb. 28 former Haitian "president for life" Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier (1971-1986) finally complied with an order to attend an appeals court hearing in Port-au-Prince on possible charges for human rights violations committed during his regime. A number of people filed criminal complaints against Duvalier when he returned to Haiti in 2011, but an investigative judge refused to indict him in January 2012, citing Haiti's 10-year statute of limitations in murder cases. The plaintiffs appealed, and in January of this year a three-member appeals panel agreed to hold a hearing.

Duvalier remained defiant at the Feb. 28 session. After the judges turned down his request to hold a closed meeting, Duvalier was required to answer questions for four hours in open court before journalists, human rights advocates and the plaintiffs. Asked if there were political prisoners at Fort Dimanche, the Port-au-Prince prison where an estimated 3,000 people were executed or died from lack of proper care, Duvalier answered: "Fort Dimanche was full of all kinds of criminals." "All countries have murder," he said when the judges asked about killings under his regime. Human Rights Watch (HRW) estimates that 20,000-30,000 people were killed during the administrations of Duvalier and his father, François ("Papa Doc") Duvalier (1957-1971).

"In every domain, I have a good record," Duvalier said. "Everything was going well when I was here. When I came back, I found a broken and corrupt country. I should ask you, what have you done with my country?" The hearing is to continue on March 7. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Feb. 28; Inter Press Service, March 1)

Another former head of state is now scheduled to appear before a judge. Ex-president René Garcia Préval (1996-2001, 2006-2011) is to meet with investigative judge Yvickel D. Dabrésil on March 14 in relation to the April 2000 murder of journalist Jean Léopold Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint, the guard at Dominique's Haïti Inter radio station. Other political figures who have been questioned in the case include former national police director Mario André