Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier has died of a heart attack
He ruled Haiti with an iron fist from 1971 to 1986
He fled Haiti, was accused of human rights violations, but evaded prosecution
Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier died of a heart attack in Port-au-Prince at the age of 63, a family member told CNN Saturday.
Known by his nickname “Baby Doc,” the so-called “President for life” actually fled Haiti in 1986 and stunned Haiti when he returned 25 years later.
He was charged with human rights crimes within days of his return, but he successfully argued in court that the statute of limitations had expired on charges that included torture, rape and extrajudicial killings.
Human rights groups decried the court ruling that spared Duvalier.
In February, a Haitian appeals court ruled that the lower court was wrong and that there is no statute of limitations for human rights violations. The ruling reopened the possibility that Duvalier could face such charges, but he died before a judicial investigation decided whether to pursue the charges.
Duvalier inherited the title of “President for life” in 1971 upon the death of his father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who had ruled with an iron fist through his paramilitary force, the Tonton Macoute.
Just 19 years old when he came to power, Baby Doc became one of the world’s youngest heads of state.
Haitians initially celebrated his ascension, thinking the young man would be less oppressive than his father, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.
Duvalier used his father’s security apparatus to continue ruling in a totalitarian fashion.
His 15 years of rule were a time of repression in Haiti that included the torture of opponents and the taking of political prisoners.
In addition, there were allegations that “Baby Doc” embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had documented what they call systematic human rights violations under Duvalier’s rule. Both organizations accuse Duvalier of imprisoning and torturing hundreds of Haitians, including journalists, and using violent means to silence voices of opposition.
Amnesty gave the public prosecutor in the Duvalier case 100 documents that it said detailed cases of human rights violations.
Amnesty International’s documents told the experiences of cobblers, taxi drivers, filmmakers, mechanics, distillers and even hairdressers, all of whom, they say, were arrested for anti-government activity.
CNN’s Pierre Meilhan and Moni Basu contributed to this report.