Haiti's ex-dictator 'Baby Doc' fails to show in court

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier failed to appear in court on Thursday to hear whether he will face charges over human rights abuses.

"There isn't even a one percent chance that he will appear," his attorney Reynold Georges declared, explaining that his client had asked Haiti's highest court to hear his case and is awaiting its decision.

"We are calmly awaiting the decision of the Court of Cassation," he said.

The hearing went ahead without the suspect, who had likewise boycotted two earlier sessions, and a lawyer acting for the alleged victims of Duvalier's former regime demanded that an arrest warrant be issued.

The judge informed Georges that he had not been made aware of the request made to the Court of Cassation and adjourned the packed hearing to consider his decision.

Lawyers acting for the plaintiffs had hoped the judge in Thursday's appeal court hearing would rule on whether the former leader can be prosecuted for alleged human rights abuses during his 15-year rule.

"It was a golden opportunity to hold an historic trial and the fact of going to the Court of Cassation will only prolong the delay," complained Jean-Joseph Exume, who is acting for the plaintiffs.

"In any case, there has to be a trial, but surely not in the current political climate," he lamented.

A Haitian court decided last year that too much time had passed for Duvalier to be charged with crimes against humanity, which are protected by a statute of limitations. His alleged victims have appealed that decision.

The United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay had issued a statement before the hearing was due to start, declaring that there should be no statute of limitations for rights abusers.

"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.

"All those Haitians who suffered such abuses have a right to see justice is done. I encourage the judicial authorities to act on their responsibilities and ensure the victims are provided with the long overdue justice they deserve."

Former opposition figures have accused Duvalier of deploying the feared Tonton Macoute militia and of complicity in murder, torture and kidnapping.

Duvalier was the world's youngest head of state when, at the age of just 19, he succeeded his autocratic late father Francois "Papa Doc" in 1971. He was overthrown in a popular revolt in 1986 and fled to France.

He returned to Haiti two years ago after 25 years in exile.

Duvalier initially had been scheduled to appear in court on February 7, but failed to show up and instead sent a letter accusing the judge of taking the plaintiff's side and asking for the hearing to be postponed.

He objected to the original hearing date because it was the anniversary of the 1986 day when he was overthrown.

Leading human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which sent observers to Thursday's hearing, have clamored for Haiti's justice system to ensure that Duvalier's alleged abuses not go unpunished.