Haiti's Duvalier finally in court to face abuse of power charges

Thu Feb 28, 2013 6:06pm EST
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By Jean Valme

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier faced corruption and human rights charges in a court on Thursday for the first time since a popular revolt forced him into exile in 1986, and denied responsibility for abuses under his 15-year rule.

Individual government officials "had their own authority," the 61-year-old Duvalier said when asked about his role as head of state from 1971 to 1986. "Under my authority, children could go to school, there was no insecurity."

Duvalier, who had boycotted three previous court hearings, struck a mostly defiant tone during a four-hour grilling by a panel of three judges in a packed and sweltering courtroom.

After his last no-show a week ago, Judge Jean-Joseph Lebrun issued a warrant ordering his presence, under police escort if necessary.

Duvalier, dressed in a navy-blue suit and tie, slipped into the courthouse unescorted early on Thursday, arriving in his own car several hours before the hearing started accompanied by his longtime companion Veronique Roy.

Hundreds of Duvalier supporters gathered outside the courthouse soon after his arrival, some dancing and chanting "Long live Duvalier."

The pretrial Appeal Court hearing was held to determine what charges Duvalier may have to face. It is the first time he has personally been required to address crimes allegedly committed during his rule.

International human rights observers are closely watching the case and consider it an important test of Haiti's weak justice system after decades of dictatorship, military rule and economic mayhem.   Continued...

Former Haitian Dictator Jean Claude "Baby-Doc" Duvalier (C) listens as charges against him are announced during an appeals court hearing in Port-au-Prince February 28, 2013. REUTERS/Swoan Parker