PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Four Haitians, including a former United Nations spokeswoman, filed criminal complaints on Wednesday against former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, accusing him of crimes against humanity including torture.
The filings came a day after Duvalier was briefly detained and charged by a Haitian state prosecutor with corruption, embezzlement and other alleged crimes during his 1971-1986 rule in the impoverished Caribbean nation. He returned unexpectedly to Haiti on Sunday from 25 years of exile in France.
Michele Montas, the former spokeswoman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said she and three other Haitians who were jailed during Duvalier’s rule filed the complaints with a Port-au-Prince prosecutor.
“There are grounds not only to judge him for economic crimes but also for human rights abuses,” she said.
Duvalier’s return convulsed politics in Haiti, which is grappling with a dispute over a disputed presidential election in November and a cholera epidemic that killed more than 3,800 people. The Western Hemisphere’s poorest state is still recovering from a devastating 2010 earthquake.
Adding to the potential for upheaval in Haiti, former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who spearheaded a pro-democracy movement under Duvalier before becoming Haiti’s first freely elected leader in 1990, on Wednesday expressed his own desire to return from exile in South Africa.
“The people of Haiti have never stopped calling for my return,” said Aristide, in a statement issued by his aides. “As far as I am concerned, I am ready. Once again I express my readiness to leave today, tomorrow, at any time.” he said.
A firebrand former Roman Catholic priest, ousted by a 2004 rebellion involving former soldiers, Aristide remains wildly popular in his homeland. His Haitian passport has expired, his aides said, but Aristide said he hoped an agreement by Haitian and South African authorities could permit his return.
Duvalier, who fled Haiti in 1986 to escape a popular uprising, waved and blew kisses to a crowd of supporters on Wednesday from a balcony at a luxury hotel in Port-au-Prince where he is staying. Prosecutors say he is “at the disposition of judicial authorities.”
Montas, a journalist in Haiti, was forced into exile in the early 1980s after Duvalier closed a radio station owned by her late husband, Jean Dominique.
A lawyer for Duvalier told reporters the former strongman intends to remain in Haiti and rejected the charges filed against him by the prosecutor as politically motivated.
“There was no file, no warrant, no infraction, nor crime,” lawyer Reynold Georges said. “I say clearly it is the (Haitian) government who is behind all of this,” he added without elaborating.
The 59-year-old former leader, the son of feared dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, was notorious for his crackdown on dissent and opposition. Critics and rights groups say thousands of his opponents were killed and tortured at the hands of a secret police force known as the Tonton Macoutes.
“Anyone who was in any way independent from the regime was systematically arrested and killed,” Montas said.
Three other people, Claude Rosiers, Alix Fils-Aime and Nicole Magloire, also lodged separate lawsuits, Montas said.
Under Haitian law, the graft charges brought by the prosecutor will be investigated by a judge who must decide whether the criminal case should move forward.
Haitian authorities previously accused Duvalier and his family of plundering state coffers of several hundred million dollars and hiding the money abroad. There have been moves in Swiss courts to recover some of the money.
Duvalier’s lawyer Georges cited investigations in France and Switzerland that were closed and failed to implicate Duvalier in any wrongdoing.
“The Haitian state cannot come back to cases that are already finished,” he said. “It’s been more than 25 years since any complaint has been filed. It appears they are improvising some complaints.”
Duvalier has been vague about what prompted him to come home. He said he returned to show solidarity with the people of Haiti and play a role in his country’s “rebirth.”
But his return has drawn criticism from the United States and many European governments who say it has only deepened political uncertainty in Haiti.
Writing by Kevin Gray; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and David Storey