PORT-AU-PRINCE (AP) – An attorney for Jean-Claude Duvalier said Monday that his client was hospitalized for an unspecified illness just after the former ruler testified in court about alleged human rights abuses and embezzlement associated with his 15-year rule.
Lawyer Reynold Georges said that Duvalier wasn’t feeling well before the Feb. 28 court hearing and his doctor advised him not to testify. “I decided otherwise” and urged him to attend, Georges said.
The former ruler known as “Baby Doc” had ignored three earlier summonses without consequences but showed up this time after a judge warned that he would be jailed if he shunned a fourth. Rights groups and plaintiffs hailed the event as a small triumph for a justice system that’s long been plagued with dysfunction and corruption.
In the hearing the 61-year-old Duvalier defended his rule as a better time for Haiti. Looking gaunt and bored, he periodically wiped his forehead with a white cloth as he answered questions about political prisoners, murders and disappearances under his watch as the country’s “president for life.”
Duvalier became president in 1971 at the age of 19, succeeding his father Francois “Papa Doc,” and ruled until he was ousted in a popular rising in 1986. A private militia known as the Tonton Macoutes helped the Duvalier dynasty stay in power.
The former leader was charged with rights abuses and financial crimes upon his sudden return in January 2011 following 25 years in exile in France. A judge in a lower level court last year ruled that Duvalier face only charges on financial crimes, and not the human rights abuse charges because they are exempt under a statute of limitations.
Attorneys for more than 20 plaintiffs appealed that decision and so has the legal team for Duvalier, whose attorneys assert he’s innocent on all charges.
Lawyer Nicole Phillips of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, a Boston-based advocacy group helping Haitian attorneys who represent the alleged victims, noted the timing of Duvalier’s alleged hospital visit. “It would be unfortunate if his illness stalls the appeals process,” Phillips said.
*Pictured above is Jean-Claude Duvalier.