Baby Doc quizzed in court over his brutal regime
Former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier appeared in a Haitian court for the first time, answering questions on whether he should be charged with human rights abuses during his brutal 1971-86 regime.
It was also the first time for the plaintiffs to see the former ruler known as "Baby Doc" answer direct questions about the widespread abuses associated with his rule.
Activists and opponents applauded as they saw Duvalier arrive for the hearing, after repeatedly shunning previous summonses, and sit facing the three-judge panel.
Near him sat his defence lawyers and his long-time partner.
The session was a "historic victory in a country where the rich and powerful have always been above the law," said Reed Brody, counsel and a spokesman for Human Rights Watch.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Mario Joseph, said the hearing was evidence that Haiti's long-dysfunctional justice system "was functioning".
Duvalier had ignored three earlier summonses without consequences but showed up yesterday after a judge warned that he would be jailed if he shunned a fourth.
Instead of speaking to the court, the gaunt-looking Duvalier mumbled his responses to a clerk who sat at his side and recorded them in a ledger book. Then the clerk read the answers aloud in French to the judges.
The judges asked him about political prisoners who were locked up, tortured and killed under his regime.
And they asked him if he was aware of the murders, executions and political imprisonment that happened during his reign.
"Murders exist in all countries," said Duvalier.
The defence argues that Duvalier should not face charges of any type, while the plaintiffs are seeking the reinstatement of human rights charges.
The court is due to listen to the plaintiffs next Thursday.