Latin America & Caribbean

Haiti's Preval: 'Baby Doc' Duvalier 'must face justice'

Jean-Claude Duvalier, 21 January 2011
Image caption Jean-Claude Duvalier is staying in a hotel in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince

Haiti's ex-leader Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier had the right to return to the country but must now face justice, President Rene Preval says.

Mr Preval was making his first comments on the issue since Mr Duvalier's unexpected return from exile last week.

Mr Duvalier has been charged with theft and misappropriation of funds during his 1971-1986 rule.

He is also being sued for torture and other crimes against humanity. He has said he is ready to face "persecution".

In a news conference on Friday, Mr Duvalier called for national reconciliation, claiming his return from France had been prompted by the earthquake that devastated Haiti last year and his desire to help rebuild the country.

On Saturday, Mr Preval said that according to the Haitian constitution, no-one could be forced to remain in exile.

"Duvalier had the right to return to the country, but under the constitution, he also must face justice," he said at a news conference during a visit by the Dominican president.

"If Duvalier is not in prison now, it is because he has not yet been tried."

Mr Duvalier is barred from leaving the country pending the outcome of an investigation into his alleged crimes, Mr Preval said.

Swiss funds

Mr Duvalier arrived on the day Haiti was supposed to hold a second round of elections to choose a successor to Mr Preval.

The vote has been postponed because of a dispute over who came second in the first round.

Official results said it was Jude Celestin, a protege of Mr Preval's, but international observers have urged Haiti to revise the result in favour of singer Michel "Sweet Mickey" Martelly, who was placed third.

Some have voiced concern that Mr Duvalier's return could add to the political uncertainty.

One theory offered by analysts and lawyers to explain Mr Duvalier's return is that he was trying to stave off attempts by Switzerland to donate to Haiti nearly $6m (£3.7m) frozen in Swiss bank accounts.

Under a new Swiss law that comes into force on 1 February, the funds can be released even if Haiti has not made a legal move to get them.

Mr Duvalier wrongly predicted that he might be able to avoid prosecution, observers say.

"If Duvalier goes back to Haiti and is not prosecuted, then he could say 'I was available for prosecution, and you didn't prosecute me: Give me my money back,'" said Reed Brody, a lawyer at Human Rights Watch.

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