Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, former Haitian dictator, was escorted to court Jan. 18, two days after his shocking return to the beleaguered country. According to various news reports, he was taken there for a hearing to determine if enough evidence exists to try him on the embezzlement and corruption charges filed since his return to Haiti. According to a statement from defense attorney Gervais Charles reported by the Associated Press, the process can take up to three months and is determined by the judge who conducted the hearing.
Internet tweets from Mac McClelland, a reporter stationed in Haiti by the investigative magazine Mother Jones, indicated that while Duvalier was at the courthouse his supporters were on the street calling for his release, saying, “Time is up!” After what was described by Associated Press reporter Jonathan M. Katz as an “hours long closed-court meeting,” Duvalier left the courthouse around 6 p.m. EST, McClelland tweeted.
There is much speculation regarding why Duvalier has returned to Haiti now. Many outside the country are wondering if the absence of power left by the devastating earthquake a year ago and the contentious, unresolved presidential election is the reason. Still others postulate, at least according to tweets from McClelland, that he has returned to the country to die.
Duvalier mysteriously arrived in Haiti Jan. 16, accompanied by his companion Veronica Roy, after 25 years of exile in France. He ruled over the island nation beginning in 1971, following the death of his father Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and maintained power until his ouster during an uprising in 1986.
Human Rights Watch and other international groups have called for the controversial leader’s arrest, saying he and his father created a vicious dynasty that ordered the death and torture of 20,000 to 30,000 Haitians.
“Duvalier’s return to Haiti should be for one purpose only: to face justice,” José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch said in a statement. “His time to be held accountable is long overdue.”
He has never been prosecuted for any crimes. According to Human Rights Watch, four Haitians recently filed torture complaints against the former leader in France but charges were overturned because the country’s statue on crimes against humanity was not retroactive.
Some civil leaders are urging media to focus on the devastation in Haiti – caused by a cholera outbreak, extreme poverty and slow earthquake recovery – not on Duvalier’s return. “To the extent that Baby Doc is a citizen of Haiti, many say he has the right to visit the county,” said Eric Walcott, executive director of the D.C.-based National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians. “I know there are outstanding warrants for his arrest because of crimes against humanity and it is their obligation to take a stance on that.”
But the country is in dire straits, he said. “That should be the focus, not the diversion created by Baby Doc.”
AFRO Executive Editor Talibah Chikwendu contributed to this article.