PORT-AU-PRINCE, HaitiFormer Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier appeared in court Thursday after three times shunning a summons for a hearing on whether he should be charged with human rights abuses during his brutal 1971-1986 regime.
Dozens of supporters cheered as Duvalier emerged wearing a navy blue suit and gray tie and sat facing the three-judge panel. Next to him sat his defense attorneys and his longtime partner, who did not remove her sunglasses during the proceedings.
Those seeking to have Duvalier prosecuted smiled as they saw him finally arrive for the session, and some applauded.
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Reed Brody, counsel and a spokesman for Human Rights Watch, said the session "is an important victory for Duvalier's victims, who never gave up hope of seeing him in court, and for the Haitian people who have the right to know what happened during the dark years of the Duvalier dictatorship," Brody said.
The hearing began with arguments over legal proceedings, with Duvalier's defense attorneys requesting a closed-door hearing, which the judges granted. However, the hearing was still publicly under way early Thursday afternoon.
The steamy courtroom was packed with journalists, observers and Duvalier supporters. The crowd, however, remained quiet overall, unlike the two hearings that Duvalier did not attend, which became raucous and sometimes volatile.
The former dictator known as "Baby Doc" had previously ignored the court summons three times.
The Duvalier case seemed to have vanished until it went before Haiti's Court of Appeal in January. A lower court judge ruled in January 2012 that Duvalier should only face charges on alleged financial crimes.
Duvalier returned to Haiti in early 2011 after spending 25 years in exile. While in exile, Duvalier remained quiet except for a September 2007 radio address in which he apologized for wrongs committed under his rule and urged supporters to rally around his fringe political party.