Witnesses claim torture under Haiti ex-dictator 'Baby Doc'

Witnesses testified Thursday against an absent Jean-Claude Duvalier, in a hearing aimed at determining whether the former Haitian dictator will stand trial for crimes against humanity.

"Baby Doc," who ruled Haiti with an iron fist from 1971 to 1986, has been unwell since appearing at a rowdy five-hour hearing on February 28.

His lawyer, Aurelian Jeanty, explained that the former "president for life" would not appear in court on Thursday "because he is still hospitalized."

The 61-year-old's supporters say he suffers from cervical osteoarthritis, a degeneration of the spinal column in the neck area.

On Thursday, several of his alleged victims testified that Duvalier had ordered their arbitrary detention and torture.

"I was arrested for no reason on April 26, 1976," declared former lawmaker Alix Fils-Aime.

"I was tortured and then interrogated by the secret police and then shut in a cell for 18 months in solitary confinement. I could hear the cries of other detainees," he added

Another witness, former footballer Robert Duval, testified that, "during my eight months in prison, there were 180 deaths within the cells."

Duval said that he was first interrogated in 1976 at a military barracks before being transferred to a civilian prison.

"When a detainee died, his body was thrown into a mass grave," he continued, adding that he believes he owes his life to former US president Jimmy Carter.

Duvalier succeeded his father Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier in 1971 aged only 19, and continued to rule the poorest country in the Americas in his father's brutal style until he was ousted in a popular revolt in 1986.

He fled to exile in France, only to return a quarter-of-a-century later and take up residence in a well-to-do Port-au-Prince district, where he is often to be seen driving himself around in a luxury SUV.

Lawyers representing human rights groups, alleged victims of torture and relatives of opponents who were killed under his rule have attempted to bring charges of crimes against humanity, murder and corruption.

A court initially ruled that the most serious of the charges were protected by a statute of limitations, but the plaintiffs have appealed that decision and a judge is holding a series of hearings before ruling on their claim.