“Down with impunity”
Twenty years ago today (on November 16, 2000), a Haitian court convicted 37 men for their roles in the 1994 Raboteau massacre – a violent attack by government forces on a civilian neighborhood associated with political opposition to the governing regime – in absentia. Yet, none of these men have served time pursuant to their sentences. None have contributed to the award issued by the court in favor of the Raboteau massacre victims who intervened as civil parties to the case.
Haitian law requires that any individuals convicted in absentia be arrested upon returning to Haiti and either accept the conviction issued against them or request and participate in renewed proceedings. In a positive step, the government has been detaining former death squad leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant – the founder and head of a paramilitary group complicit in the Raboteau massacre – since he was deported to Haiti in June pursuant to his in absentia conviction. But justice remains elusive as the prosecutor on the case first publicly stated that he couldn’t find case documents and therefore might have to release Constant and then dodged victims’ representatives seeking clarification on potential proceedings.
More troubling still, the present administration installed one of the men convicted in absentia for the Raboteau massacre, Colonel Jean-Robert Gabriel, into a top leadership role in Haiti’s reconstituted armed forces, along with several other individuals with troubling human rights records. Gabriel is therefore serving in exactly the type of position of authority over state use of force that he was convicted for abusing. There have been no public judicial proceedings pursuant to Gabriel’s in absentia conviction and the government of Haiti has offered no public accounting for ignoring Gabriel’s adjudicated human rights record beyond baldly claiming that he was vetted. In addition to Gabriel and Constant, there are at least two other men who were convicted for the Raboteau massacre in absentia and are currently present in Haiti.
This is the worst kind of impunity: one that leaves victims without justice, emboldens perpetrators, and thereby corrodes public confidence in the rule of law in Haiti. It is all the more disappointing because the trial that led to these in absentia convictions was hailed as a high point for human rights accountability and investment in Haiti’s judicial system.
Today marks twenty years of failing to live up to that promise and eroding the capacity gains resulting from the trial. As insecurity in Haiti escalates to catastrophic proportions, it is clear that chronic impunity for human rights abuses like the Raboteau massacre and the more recent 2018 La Saline massacre and similar attacks are creating an enabling environment for the violence, which human rights observers in Haiti link to politically-motivated police and state action. Victims of the Raboteau massacre have continued to demand justice, in spite of fears of reprisal (see also here, here, here, and here). They represent the many other Haitians who have been denied justice but continue to seek it.
Thus, we hope that today will also mark the beginning of a re-commitment to the promise of the Raboteau Trial: meaningful accountability for human rights violations; an effective and accessible Haitian justice system; and a government that honors and protects its citizens. IJDH stands in solidarity with the victims of the Raboteau massacre and with the people of Haiti.