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At 74, Haiti activist presses for 'Baby Doc' trial

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

In a Port-au-Prince courtroom, Nicole Magloire, leaning on a cane, says she is determined to testify against former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier to ensure he faces justice.

"I am fighting for the rule of law and a democratic society in Haiti," the 74-year-old human rights activist told AFP.

Magloire and 25 other alleged victims have filed suit against Duvalier, who was overthrown in a 1986 revolt after 15 years of iron-fisted rule. He fled to France and only returned to the impoverished Caribbean country two years ago.

A Haitian judge is trying to determine whether Duvalier should face charges of crimes against humanity, but the 61-year-old has repeatedly failed to turn up in court.

That judge has now ordered "Baby Doc" to appear on Thursday -- and Magloire is prepared to give it her all.

"I am ready to testify in front of the appeals court to say what I endured," she told AFP.

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.

Magloire, a gynecologist by training, said she was arrested on November 29, 1980, and exiled to Canada several days later after spending time in prison, together with two female journalists, stripped down to her underwear.

She recalled that as her home was being ransacked, she was interrogated before being pushed out.

"When they drove me to the airport to force me onto a flight to Canada, I screamed, I yelled, and said I wouldn't leave without my 18-month-old daughter," she said.

While Baby Doc's rule was initially seen as more benign than that of his father, he too soon adopted hardline dictatorial measures.

In the late 1970s, his regime's feared Tonton Macoute militia crushed Haiti's democratic movement, sending hundreds of journalists, writers and artists into exile while others were imprisoned or simply vanished.

Magloire, for one, has been pushing for human rights in her homeland from a young age.

Already in the 1960s, as a student in Canada, Magloire was a member of a group -- "Patriotic Action" -- that opposed "Papa Doc" and called for the release of political prisoners.

Just days after the younger Duvalier's rule was brought to an end by a popular uprising, Magloire returned to Haiti to pursue her push for rights.

"Fifteen days after February 7, 1986, I returned to take up my fight for the rule of law," she said.

Her motivation? Not revenge, she said, but rather the creation of a truly democratic Haitian society.

However, she noted, that can't be done by erasing pages from the country's history.

"I wouldn't want society to forget what happened: the murders, the disappearances, the torture, exile," she said.

While she called the decision by Judge Jean-Joseph Lebrun to summon Duvalier an important step, she expressed pessimism about the prospects for the judicial process.

"I fear that my country's weak justice system won't fulfill its role," she said.

Since Duvalier's return a year after the 2010 earthquake that devastated the Port-au-Prince region and left more than a quarter of a million dead, several Haitian individuals and groups have attempted to bring charges against him.

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

But, to the disgust of human rights organizations, a Haiti court decided last year that too much time had passed for him to be charged with crimes against humanity, which are protected by a statute of limitations.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130227/at-74-haiti-activist-presses-baby-doc-trial