PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Senior Haitian judicial officials met in private with former Jean-Claude Duvalier and his lawyers Tuesday amid calls to arrest the former dictator for human rights violations committed under his brutal regime.
The country's top prosecutor and a judge were among those meeting with the former leader known as “Baby Doc” in the high-end hotel where he has been ensconced since his surprise return to Haiti on Sunday.
None of the officials would comment on what was being discussed at the meeting. Asked by journalists why he was going to meet Duvalier, Judge Gabriel Amboisse said, “I'm here to assist the prosecutor because he asked me to be here with him.”
Duvalier was forced into exile in 1986 in a mass uprising and had been living in exile in France. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others have urged the Haitian government to arrest him for widespread abuses.
Duvalier assumed power in 1971 at age 19 following the death of his father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. The father and son presided over one of the darkest chapters in Haitian history, a period when thuggish government secret police force known as the Tonton Macoute tortured and killed opponents.
The younger Duvalier still has some support in Haiti and millions are too young to remember life under his dictatorship. His abrupt return sent shock waves through the country, with some fearing that his presence will bring back the extreme polarization, and political violence, of the past.
He has not yet publicly commented on why he came back to Haiti. His longtime companion, Veronique Roy, told reporters he would stay three days.
His return comes as Haiti struggles to work through a dire political crisis following the problematic Nov. 28 first-round presidential election, as well as a cholera epidemic and a troubled recovery from an earthquake.
Duvalier has also been accused of pilfering millions of dollars from public funds and spiriting them out of the country to Swiss banks, though he denies stealing from Haiti.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville said Tuesday that Duvalier's return increases the chance that he could be charged with atrocities committed during his 15-year rule because it will be easier to bring charges in the country where the crimes occurred.
He cautioned, though, that Haiti's fragile judicial system may be in no position to mount a case.