Yesterday’s $19 million dollar against Haitian death squad leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, in favor of three of the thousands of victims of the FRAPH death squad, is a great victory, even if the victims never recover a substantial amount of the money they were awarded (see the Court’s order). The victims got their day in court, and recieved official recognition that the horrors inflicted by Constant’s FRAPH were a violation of the laws of nations, for which Constant is legally responsible. The verdict stopped Constant from living large in New York while his compatriots trembled at his name. The victims, who fought for 15 years for this day, and their lawyers at The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), provided a lesson in the persistence necessary to right a great historic wrong (see CJA press release).
It should be a source of pride for all Americans that one of our Federal Courts could do justice in this case. It should be a source of shame that it had to. Constant and his victims are all Haitian, the crimes were all committed on Haitian soil. Haitian courts had the capacity to bring Mr. Constant to trial, if only the U.S. government would have let it.
Judge Stein concluded: “Constant�s conduct was clearly malicious. As commander of FRAPH, Constant founded and oversaw an organization that was dedicated principally towards terrorizing and torturing political opponents of the military regime. His direction � or at a minimum, approval � of FRAPH�s state-backed campaign of violence constitutes an inexcusable violation of international law and merits a stiff punishment.�� But this was nothing new.� Eleven years ago, Secretary of State Warren Christopher called FRAPH �a paramilitary organization whose members were responsible for numerous human rights violations in Haiti in 1993 and 1994.�� �A less restrained U.S. Embassy cable called FRAPH a group of �gun carrying crazies,� eager to �use violence against all who oppose it.��
Nor is Judge Stein the first judge to say such things. In 1995,an immigration judge concluded that �allowing [Constant] to remain in the United States fosters the impression that the United States endorses FRAPH and its actions.” He ordered Constant deported, but 11 years later that order has never been executed, precisely because the United States endorsed FRAPH and its actions. Even worse, as Constant admitted in a 60 Minutes interview, the U.S. government suggested and paid for Constant and his work with FRAPH (for an excellent treatment of Constant’s career in Haiti and his U.S. government connections, see David Grann’s Giving the Devil His Due, The Atlantic Monthly, June 2001).a landmark in the fight against impunity, and fair to victims and defendants alike.
While Constant scared his neighbors in New York for 12 years (evenly divided between the Clinton and Bush Administrations), the Haitian justice system did what it could to pursue him. Those efforts bore fruit in November 2000, when a court in the city of Gonaives convicted Constant under the same theory of liability used by Judge Stein, in what is known as the Raboteau Massacre trial. That case was both criminal and civil, in that the court sentenced Constant to prison, and also to pay a multi-million dollar verdict to his victims. The case was hailed by the United Nations and human rights groups as
Haiti’s government, the victims themselves, and human rights groups in Haiti, the U.S. and throughout the world petitioned the U.S. government to execute Constant’s deportation order, so that he could face justice. Instead, the U.S. governemnt deported the Haitian government, by flying President Jean-Betrand Aristide against his will to the Central African Republic. In the ensuing mayhem, all the killers that the justice system had managed to find in the Raboteau case escaped. None have been re-arrested.
Constant has not been so lucky. The U.S. government was willing to let his murders and other terrorist acts slide, but eventually Constant did something really bad: he defrauded some banks, for which he was finally arrested this past July. He is still in jail, and he now faces vigorous prosecution.