Calls for arrest of Haiti's 'Baby Doc'

 

Human rights groups today called for Haiti to arrest and prosecute former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier for crimes against humanity after his surprise return from 25 years in exile.

Analysts said the unexpected arrival in Port-au-Prince yesterday of 'Baby Doc' Duvalier, who had fled his homeland in 1986 to escape a popular revolt, could only complicate the political uncertainty in earthquake-battered Haiti.

Tensions are already high following chaotic and inconclusive November 28th elections.

"Duvalier's return to Haiti should be for one purpose only: to face justice," Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of US-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "Haiti has enough troubles without Duvalier ... Duvalier's presence - unless he is immediately arrested - is a slap in the face to a people which has already suffered so much."

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said Duvalier (59), should be brought to trial for the killings and torture of thousands of opponents at the hands of the thuggish Tonton Macoutes militia during his 15 years in power.

"The widespread and systematic human rights violations committed in Haiti during Duvalier's rule amount to crimes against humanity," said Javier Zuniga, special advisor at Amnesty International. "Haiti is under the obligation to prosecute him and anyone else responsible for such crimes."

Several hundred supporters were at Port-au-Prince airport to greet Duvalier, who arrived on an Air France flight from Paris with his French wife, Veronique Roy.

As a chubby playboy and the world's youngest head of state at 19, Duvalier assumed power in Haiti in 1971 on the death of his father, the feared dictator Francois 'Papa Doc' Duvalier. His sone continued the Duvalier dynasty, which inspired fear and loathing among many in Haiti, until going into exile in France in 1986.

Duvalier said he had returned to show solidarity to the people of Haiti, still the poorest state in the Western Hemisphere, which is grappling with a cholera epidemic and struggling to recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake. He said he wanted to participate in Haiti's "rebirth."

Analysts said his return could not come at a worse time for Haiti, which is on edge after confused legislative and presidential elections in November. Preliminary voting results have triggered fraud allegations and violent street protests.

"As if Haiti's politics weren't turbulent enough already, the presence of the former dictator is likely to arouse strong passions across the political spectrum," said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue."Keeping those passions in check will be a formidable challenge that calls for effective leadership."

He said Duvalier's reappearance could prompt another controversial former president, firebrand ex-Roman Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to try to return from his exile in South Africa. Aristide fled an armed rebellion in 2004.

Among ordinary Haitians, fears also were running high that Duvalier's presence would be disruptive for the country.

He had faced accusations of corruption and human rights abuses when he fled the country in 1986 during massive street protests and diplomatic pressure from Washington.

It appeared there were no outstanding arrest warrants against him. Because Haiti's constitution bans exile for Haitians, there was nothing legally preventing his return.

A source close to Duvalier said he had returned under a diplomatic passport but was required to inform Haiti's Interior Ministry of his whereabouts.

Duvalier's return adds a divisive figure to Haiti's politics, just days after it commemorated the first anniversary of the 2010 quake that killed more than 300,000 people.