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Amnesty calls on Haiti to arrest "Baby Doc"

posted 17 Jan 2011, 12:02 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 17 Jan 2011, 12:05 ]

Amnesty International calls for arrest of former dictator "Baby Doc" as he makes surprise return to Haiti.

Rights groups on Monday (January 17) demanded Haiti arrest former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier for crimes against humanity after his surprise return from 25 years in exile, which strained an edgy political atmosphere in the volatile Caribbean state.

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

Tensions in the impoverished nation are running high following chaotic and inconclusive Nov. 28 elections.

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.

"We are asking for him to be arrested and to be put forward for a trial, because during his time extra-judicial executions disappearances and systematic torture was just the mark of his regime. They are crimes against humanity and there is no prescription for these crimes and therefore the government of Haiti and other governments, by the way, are responsible, are obliged to put him on trial," said Javier Zuniga, special advisor at Amnesty International.

Hundreds of supporters were at Port-au-Prince airport on Sunday 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.

"Baby Doc" continued the Duvalier dynasty, which inspired fear and loathing among many in Haiti, until going into exile in France in 1986.

Duvalier said on Sunday he had returned to show solidarity to the people of Haiti, 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.

"Impunity on top of the earthquake, on top of the cholera, on top of the big problems they have is too much," said Zuniga, adding that Haitians need a positive sign from their government.

Duvalier 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.

Zuniga said Papa and Baby Doc are directly responsible for the poor state of Haiti today.

"The time of the Duvaliers was lost years for Haiti's development, for Haiti's human rights progress and therefore the weakness of the state in Haiti right now comes from that time and I think he is also responsible for that," he said.

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.

The outcome of the U.N.-backed Nov. 28 elections is up in the air after a team of Organization of American States experts last week delivered a report to President Preval challenging preliminary official results.