PORT-AU-PRINCE – Former Haitian ruler Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier appeared in court here Thursday for a hearing to determine if he can be charged with crimes against humanity.
At the pretrial Appeals Court hearing he denied responsibility for abuses carried out during his time as president, between 1971 and 1986.
Human rights groups say hundreds of political prisoners were tortured or killed under his rule.
He returned to Haiti in 2011, after spending 25 years in exile in France.
Opponents and supporters of Duvalier turned out for the hearing, with some of his alleged victims just a few feet away from him in the packed courtroom.
It was the first time he faced them, having failed to attend previous hearings.
Supporters dressed in the black and red colors symbolic of Duvalier’s rule and chanted “Long live Duvalier,” as he entered the courthouse.
Duvalier’s lawyers had asked for the session to be held in private, arguing that he was unwell.
The hearing was requested by his alleged victims, who want to see him stand trial for crimes against humanity.
President for life
Last year, a judge ruled that Duvalier should be tried for embezzling public funds, but that the statute of limitations had run out on charges of murder, arbitrary arrest, torture and disappearances.
That ruling is contested by human rights organizations, which argued that under international law there is no time limit on prosecuting crimes against humanity.
Duvalier is appealing against the decision to try him on any charges.
At the hearing, he claimed to have had limited power over individual government officials who “had their own authority”.
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