PORT-AU-PRINCE Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier defied a judge's order to appear in court on Thursday to face charges he was responsible for corruption and serious human rights violations during his 15-year rule.
Duvalier had already boycotted two previous court hearings, and Judge Jean-Joseph Lebrun, head of the court of appeals, responded to the latest snub by ordering that Duvalier be escorted to court by law enforcement officials next week.
The presence of the 61-year-old former "president for life" was "imperative," Lebrun said.
Reynold Georges, who heads Duvalier's legal team, argued unsuccessfully before Lebrun that his client's presence was not required.
Duvalier returned to the impoverished Caribbean nation in January 2011 after 25 years of exile and was briefly detained on charges of corruption, theft and misappropriation of funds that are still pending against him.
A separate set of charges of crimes against humanity filed by alleged victims of wrongful imprisonment, forced disappearances and torture under Duvalier, was set aside by an investigating judge last year.
The judge ruled that the statute of limitations for those alleged crimes had run out. But the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, has warned Haitian authorities that there is no statute of limitations under international law for serious violations of human rights.
"I encourage the judicial authorities to act on their responsibilities and ensure the victims are provided with the long overdue justice they deserve," Pillay said in a recent statement.
She was referring to a catalog of crimes and abuses that human rights watchdogs say were committed with impunity under Duvalier.
Duvalier's flight into exile in 1986 ended nearly three decades of dictatorship begun by his father, François 'Papa Doc' Duvalier.
The Duvaliers enforced their rule with the aid of a feared militia, the National Security Volunteers, better known as the Tonton Macoutes, who were blamed for hundreds of deaths and disappearances.
Human rights advocates said Thursday's ruling by Lebrun marked an important step forward for a country searching for political stability after decades of dictatorship, military rule and economic mayhem.
"He tried to get away with it, but this decision proves he is not above the law," said Reed Brody, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch, who has worked with the victims in the case and attended the hearing.
"It's a chink in his armor of impunity," he said. "It's now up to the authorities to make sure that this warrant is swiftly executed and that Duvalier is brought to court."
(Writing by David Adams; Editing by Tom Brown and Peter Cooney)