Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Briefing Paper: Reversing Post-Raboteau Massacre Trial Impunity

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I. Introduction

In November of this year, it will have been 20 years since Haiti successfully prosecuted its most complex human rights case: after five years of community advocacy, investigations, and pretrial proceedings; six weeks of trial that included uses of expert testimony and DNA evidence; and unprecedented access for both victims and the public, 53 men, most of them members of the Haitian military and a government-affiliated paramilitary group (FRAPH) were convicted for their roles in the violent Raboteau Massacre. A diverse jury [1] found 16 of the 22 men tried in person guilty. The judge convicted another 37 men in absentia a week later. Victims, who had intervened as civil parties were awarded 1 billion Haitian gourdes (approximately U.S. $43 million at the time) in damages.

The Raboteau Massacre Trial (the “Trial”) was celebrated as a commitment by the government of Haiti to ending impunity. [2] It was the first case to bring Haiti’s military leadership to justice.[3] It was also momentous because it embodied the dividends of a concerted investment in systematic improvements to Haiti’s justice sector. The Trial showed that meaningful accountability for past abuses was possible in a Haitian court of law.

In the two decades since, much of that promise has been squandered. In 2005, Haiti’s highest court reversed the jury part of the Raboteau convictions in a judgment that has been widely criticized as legally improper and politically motivated.[4] Subsequent government failure to hold accountable convicted defendants who had been tried in absentiabut returned to Haiti not only further eroded the Raboteau promise of accountability, but also signaled a serious dismantling of the justice sector’s capacity and credibility, laboriously built up in the lead-up to the Trial.

The recent deportation of one of the main actors responsible for the Raboteau Massacre, Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, to Haiti offers a new opportunity for the government of Haiti to re-examine the arc of the Raboteau Massacre Trial history and – hopefully – bend it towards justice.[5] Constant and any other in absentia Raboteau defendants who have returned to Haiti, regardless of position, should be arrested and brought to justice. To do otherwise is not only contrary to the rule of law but would also betray the Raboteau promise of Haitian justice that is fair and independent.

This briefing paper proceeds by providing a historical overview of the de facto military regime that perpetrated, among other atrocities, the Raboteau Massacre; the resulting proceedings and Trial; and the subsequent dismantling of the tangible justice that the Trial had delivered to the people of Haiti. The briefing concludes by identifying actions that the government of Haiti should undertake to reverse that trajectory and return and rebuild Haiti’s demonstrated capacity to deliver accountability to its citizens.


[1]See infranote 37and associated text.

[2]See, e.g., Press Release of Adama Dieng, United Nations Independent Expert on Haiti, Raboteau Verdict in Haiti “A Landmark In Fight Against Impunity,” But Case Not Yet Finished(2000), http://www.ijdh.org/2000/11/archive/institute-for-justice-democracy-in-haiti-home-368/(appending communique of the UN International Civilian Support Mission in Haiti (“MICAH”); see further infraSection III(b).

[3]See Brian Concannon, Jr., Justice for Haiti: The Raboteau Trial, Excerpt From: “International Legal Developments in Review: 2000” in The International Lawyer, Vol. 35, No. 2 (2001), http://www.ijdh.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/The-Raboteau-Trial-International-Lawyer.pdf[Concannon 2001].

[4]See infraSection IV(a).

[5]Cf., e.g.,Speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Montgomery, Alabama (Mar. 25, 1965).

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