Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Bringing Justice to Victims of the Raboteau Massacre

      1. Overview
      2. Recent Developments
      3. Other Resources


Historic Milestone for Ending Impunity

In September 1991, a group of officers from the Armed Forces of Haiti (acronymed as “FADH” or “FAd’H” in French) overthrew Haiti’s first democratically elected president and imposed a military dictatorship led by Lieutenant General Raoul Cédras. Opposition to the coup was so fierce that the regime created FRAPH, a paramilitary organization alternatively described as a ‘death squad,’ to suppress it. The FADH and FRAPH jointly served as the arms of political violence for the Cédras regime and were implicated in the extrajudicial killings of as many as 4,000 Haitians, as well as in thousands of incidents of rape, torture, arson, and arbitrary detention during the three years of the regime. As a consequence, hundreds of thousands of Haitians fled their country.

On November 9, 2000, after five years of pretrial proceedings and six weeks of trial, an unprecedentedly diverse jury convicted sixteen former FADH soldiers and FRAPH paramilitaries for their roles in one of the regime’s most notorious abuses: the Raboteau Massacre. A week later, the judge handed down a guilty verdict and lifetime imprisonment sentence for another 37 defendants – including the entire FADH high command and the heads of FRAPH – who had fled Haiti and were therefore prosecuted in absentia. Under Haitian law, those defendants would now be subject to arrest upon returning to Haiti, with the choice of accepting the conviction or demanding a new trial. Victims who had participated in the trial as “civil parties” were further awarded one billion Haitian gourdes in damages (approximately U.S. $43 million at the time).

The Raboteau Massacre Trial represented an opening for justice in Haiti. The FADH, with its long history of coups and violent repression, was disbanded in 1995, as pretrial proceedings commenced. The very undertaking marked a sharp break with impunity for government abuses as the first prosecution of Haiti’s military leaders for human rights violations. The trial also embodied effective strengthening of the capacity and credibility of Haiti’s justice sector: proceedings exhibited investments in trainings for justice sector actors as well as judicial infrastructure; featured litigation tools like expert testimony and DNA evidence which had not previously been used in criminal proceedings in Haiti; invested in victim participation as well as public ability to observe (all proceedings were broadcast live on national radio and often on television in Creole); and were scrupulously fair to defendants. In short, the trial demonstrated that Haiti was committed to justice and was developing effective tools for achieving accountability for abuses previously shielded with institutional impunity.

Promise of Justice Betrayed

In the intervening years, successive Haitian governments have not lived up to that promise. By the time another coup had displaced the democratically elected government in 2004, all of the Raboteau defendants were no longer in prison, most having escaped. Despite their absence, in April of 2005, Haiti’s highest court (Cour de Cassation), which had been refusing to issue a decision on defendants’ appeals from years earlier, suddenly vacated the jury verdict in a decision that has been widely criticized as unconstitutional, procedurally unsound, politically motivated, and contrary to applicable international law. A Gonaïves chief registrar issued an order, sharply denounced by the BAI as unlawful, negating the conviction in absentia of Carl Dorélien (assistant chief of staff of the FADH under Cédras), who had in the interim returned to Haiti, been arrested pursuant to the Raboteau conviction without demanding a new trial, and then escaped from prison. Most visibly today, Jean-Robert Gabriel, the former spokesperson for Cédras who was convicted in absentia as one of the intellectual authors of the Raboteau Massacre, not only returned to Haiti, but was also appointed, yet again, to a top position in the recently revived FADH. BAI sharply criticized the move as giving Gabriel a platform to “resume military barbarism and show disdain for the legitimate rights of the Haitian people.”

A New Opportunity to End Impunity

The deportation of Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, founder of FRAPH, to Haiti on June 23 offers a new opening for returning to the promise of the Raboteau Massacre Trial. Constant, who had fled Haiti for the United States, only to be held liable there for his crimes as head of FRAPH civilly and then to be criminally convicted and jailed for mortgage fraud, was abruptly paroled to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on April 7, 2020 in spite of the sentencing judge’s finding that “[g]iven the uncertainty of the political situation in Haiti and the very real chance that defendant may be able to evade justice due to the instability in the Haitian judicial system, it is the court’s hope that defendant remain in New York State for the full term of incarceration” (of 37 years).

The government of Haiti now has the opportunity to reverse nearly two decades of regression from the promise of the Raboteau Massacre Trial by making meaningful Haitian law and ending impunity for the Raboteau Massacre and the other abuses of the Cédras regime. As Mario Joseph of the BAI wrote in his recent letter to the Haitian Ministry of Justice and Public Security, the Haitian government should commit to arresting and delivering to justice any convicted Raboteau defendants who are found on Haitian soil: not only Constant, but also those who, like Gabriel, are already present in Haiti and have to date been allowed to flourish or even regain high government positions.

Recent Developments 

Bachelet: Haiti ‘death squad’ leader must be served justice, UN OHCHR, July 29, 2020 (French Version)
Sit-in devant le Parquet des Gonaïves avec les victimes du Massacre du Raboteau, BAI, July 28, 2020
July 15, 2020 BAI and RNDDH joint letter to Gonaives Commissioner (English Version)
Reversing Post-Raboteau Massacre Trial Impunity: Briefing paper on twenty years of eroding commitments to justice & the opportunity to return to accountability in Haiti, BAI and IJDH, July 13, 2020 (French Version)
July 9, 2020 BAI Letter to the Director General of Taxation (DGI) (English Version)
July 3, 2020 BAI Letter to President Moise, Prime Minister Jouthe, and Minister of Defense Dorneval (English Version)
July 2, 2020 BAI Letter to Government Commissioner of the Court of First Instance of Gonaives (Original), (English version) (French PDF) (calling on the Commissioner to issue formal orders to ensure that all Raboteau defendants are arrested and brought to justice based on the in absentia judgement issued on November 16, 2000)
Op-ed, Give Emmanuel Constant a fair trial; give death-squad leader’s victims justice, Mario Joseph and Brian Concannon, Miami Herald, June 25, 2020 (French version)
May 6, 2020 BAI letter to the Haitian Ministry of Justice and Public Security (calling on the Ministry to arrest and bring to justice any fugitives convicted in the Raboteau Massacre trial who are deported to or otherwise present in Haiti); the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (le Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains, RNDDH) joined the BAI in calling for the same on May 16, 2020
May 13, 2020 letter from Reps. Waters and Levin to the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security (“[u]rg[ing] DHS to Detain Haitian Death Squad Leader Toto Constant in the U.S. until the Haitian Government Provides a Plan to Prosecute Him under Haitian Law”)
News Stories
Il faut empêcher l’ancien chef paramilitaire de FRAPH Emmanuel Toto Constant « d’échapper à la justice », souhaite le Haut-Commissariat des Nations unies aux droits humains, Alterpresse, July 30, 2020
Emmanuel ‘Toto’ Constant must not be allowed to escape justice, UN tells Haiti, Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald, July 29, 2020
Viktim Masak Raboto yo plantè pikèt yo devan pake Gonayiv la pou mande jistis, Radio Tele Pyramide Haiti, July 29, 2020
Popilasyon ki te viktim nan yon masak Mask nan vil Gonayiv mande jistis, Exalus Mergenat, VOA Nouvel, July 27, 2020
Kiyes Toto Constant ye?, Anonymous, July 27, 2019 (Warning: Graphic Content)
Massacre de Raboteau: le BAI et le RNDDH recadrent le commissaire du gouvernement des Gonaïves, Ricardo Lambert, Le Nouvelliste, July 15, 2020
Toto Constant fait un recours en Habeas Corpus. Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire ?, Jameson Francisque, Ayibopost, July 12, 2020
Is ‘Toto’ Constant on his way to being freed? Haiti prosecutor says he has no files, Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald, July 10, 2020 (quoting Mario Joseph of BAI)
Gonaïves Prosecutor Claims He Cannot Find the 2000 Raboteau Trial Judgment. Here It Is., Kim Ives, Haiti Liberte, July 9, 2020
Wikileaks: Secret U.S. diplomatic cables highlight danger that “Toto” Constant might elude justice, Kim Ives, Haiti Liberte, July 8, 2020
The U.S. sent back the torturer Haiti calls ‘the devil.’ Can its courts handle him?, Editorial Board, Washington Post, July 5, 2020
Asosyasyon viktim masak katye Raboto yo mande jistis, VOA Nouvel, July 1, 2020
Insecurity, impunity could impede Constant’s prosecution in Haiti, Sam Bojarksi, Haitian Times, July 1, 2020
Emmanuel « Toto » Constant : déporté, l’ex-chef paramilitaire suscite appréhensions et soif de justice., Le Nouvelliste, June 24, 2020
Emmanuel ‘Toto’ Constant is back in Haiti. Death squad leader immediately arrested, Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald, June 23, 2020
Haitian strongman Emmanuel ‘Toto’ Constant is back on U.S. deportation flight to homeland, Jacqueline Charles and Monique O. Madan, Miami Herald, June 22, 2020
Deportation of Haitian death squad leader is waiting on Haiti government, Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald, June 12, 2020
Emmanuel ‘’Toto’’ Constant Reste Emprisonné aux Etats-Unis (Emmanuel “Toto” Constant Remains Imprisoned in the United States)Le Nouvelliste, May 27, 2020 (reporting that the government of Haiti announced that, at its request, the U.S. would temporarily halt the deportation of Emmanuel Constant, a former paramilitary leader convicted in absentia for crimes under the Cédras dictatorship)
30 Deported to Haiti, But Ex-Strongman Remains in US, Evens Sanon, AP, May 26, 2020 (reporting that Haitian government spokesperson “said the government would arrest Constant if ever he is deported from the US to Haiti, but that he would Be eligible for a second trial”)
Haiti death squad leader’s US deportation is back on,  Monique O. Madan and Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald, May 20, 2020
Edwidge Danticat: U.S. deportations to Haiti during coronavirus pandemic are ‘unconscionable’ | Opinion, Edwidge Danticat, Miami Herald, May 10, 2020
The U.S. planned to send a death squad leader to Haiti. Then it said never mind., Monique O. Madan and Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald, May 6, 2020
The US Has Been Exporting COVID-19 to Haiti; Now, It Is Returning a Death Squad Leader, Jake Johnston, Center for Economic and Policy Research, May 5, 2020

Other Resources

Background on the Raboteau Massacre and Related Litigations

Legal Victory Leads to Historic Recovery for Massacre Survivors in HaitiInstitute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, Upside Down World, May 27, 2008
Civil Suit Exposes U.S. Role in Hait­ian Mas­sacres, G. Dunkel, Workers World, June 1, 2008
National Lawyers Guild Congratulates Raboteau Massacre Victims on Historic VictoryNational Lawyers Guild, May 23, 2008
Giv­ing “The Devil” His Due, David Grann, The Atlantic Monthly, June 2001
Jus­tice Delayed: Show­down Looms in Haiti, John Donnelly, Boston Globe, June 11, 2000
So that Tyrants Won’t Rest, Haitians Keep a Vigil David Gonzales, New York Times, August 2, 2000
Pote Mak Sonje: The Raboteau Trial (Documentary Film), Two for the Road Videos, 2003
If You Are Not Corrupt, Arrest the Criminals: Prosecuting Human Rights Violators in Haiti, Ken Bresler, Spring 2003
Raboteau Massacre, Wikipedia
Final Report of Haiti’s National Commission of Truth and Justice, Si M Pa Rele (“If I Don’t Cry Out”), February 5, 1996

Raboteau Massacre Litigation in Haiti

2000 Raboteau Massacre Trial
Raboteau Trial Recordings Archive, Radio Haiti Archives, Duke University
November 16, 2000 in Absentia Judgment of the Court of First Instance of Gonaïves  (convicting 37 individuals in absentia for murder, sentencing them to lifetime imprisonment and hard labor, and ordering them to pay one billion Haitian Gourdes in damages to the families of the victims)(link to copy printed in Nov. 23, 2000 Issue of Le Moniteur, the official journal of the Republic of Haiti))
Raboteau Massacre Trial Verdict List (Unofficial) (listing all individual convictions and sentences following the Raboteau Massacre Trial)
Ordonnance [similar to an indictment] Issued by the Court of First Instance of Gonaïves (indicting and charging defendants and explaining the applicable law)
Report of Colonels Horacio P. Ballester and Jose Luis Garcia, Military Experts for M. Jean-Senat Fleury, Juge d’Instruction for the Court of First Instance of Gonaïves: Hierarchy of Responsibilities of the Armed Forces of Haiti During Their Course of Conduct in Raboteau (Gonaïves) from April 18 to April 22, 1994August 6, 1999 (expert report submitted to the Court of First Instance of Gonaïves outlining the laws of war applicable in the Raboteau trial and how they apply to the organizational structure of the de-facto military regime in Haiti)
Raboteau Verdict in Haiti “a Landmark in Fight Against Impunity, but Case Not Yet Finished (publishing statement by the UN Independent Expert on Haiti, calling the Raboteau Massacre Trial a “significant step in the fight against the impunity which affects all Haitian people” and “proof that the Haitian judicial system is able to effectively judge the authors of crimes and other offences that contravene the law and violate human rights”)
Justice for Haiti: The Raboteau Trial, Brian Concannon Jr., The International Lawyer, June 1, 2001
Beyond Complementarity: The International Criminal Court and National Prosecutions, A View From Haiti, Brian Concannon, Jr., Columbia Human Rights Law Review, Fall 2000

2005 Cour de Cassation Reversal of Jury Verdict
On April 21, 2005, Haiti’s highest court (Cour de Cassation) reversed the convictions of the individuals found guilty by a jury in the Raboteau Massacre Trial. That opinion has been harshly criticized and disputed as an improper and unconstitutional application of the law.
Decision of the Cour de Cassation (providing the court’s rationale for overturning the convictions of defendants convicted by jury)
Legal Memorandum of Mario Joseph (BAI) and Brian Concannon Jr. (IJDH) of June 6, 2005 (providing legal analysis of the Raboteau Case reversal)
Letter of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice and Public Security  August 12, 2005 (condemning the reversal)
Justice Dodged, Part II, Brian Concannon, Jr., Derechos, June 2005
Haiti: Obliterating Justice, Overturning of Sentences for Raboteau Massacre by Supreme Court is a Huge Step BackwardsAmnesty International, May 25, 2005 (outlining how the reversal was contrary to the Haitian Constitution and did not apply to the defendants convicted in absentia)
December 22, 2005 Open Letter of Mario Joseph (BAI) (explaining to the Minister of Justice in Haiti that the reversal in the Raboteau case does not apply Carl Dorélien or others convicted in absentia
Raboteau Massacre Trial: Criticism follows court’s decisionReed Lindsay, The Washington Times, May 17, 2005

Civil Litigation Against Raboteau Defendants in the U.S. 

Haitian survivors successfully sued two of the Raboteau Massacre Trial defendants convicted in absentia in Haiti in U.S. courts.  In each case, millions of dollars in civil damages were awarded to the plaintiffs.
Doe v. Emmanuel Constant 
Jean v. Carl Dorélien

Constant Criminal Fraud Conviction in the U.S.

Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) Resources Page for Constant Mortgage Fraud Prosecution
Decision and Order of the Supreme Court, Kings County, New York of May 22, 2007  (vacating proposed plea agreement and noting, inter alia, that Constant emphasized serving as “a leader of FRAPH” and not merely a member, and characterizing the allegations made against Constant in Haiti as “heinous”)
Sentencing Order of the Supreme Court, Kings County, New York of October 28, 2008  (sentencing Constant and finding, inter alia, that “[d]efendant, a native of Haiti, has a truly heinous record of violence, murder, torture and intimidation under the brutal regime of the Duvaliers” and that “[g]iven the uncertainty of the political situation in Haiti and the very real chance that defendant may be able to evade justice due to the instability in the Haitian judicial system, it is the court’s hope that defendant remain in New York State for the full term of incarceration, although it is apparent that the federal authorities may move to deport him shortly”)
Declaration of Mario Joseph (BAI) of May 2007 (providing information in connection with the Court’s sentencing decision)
Declaration of Brian Concannon, Jr. (IJDH) of May 2007 (providing information in connection with the Court’s sentencing decision)

Noteworthy Raboteau in Absentia Defendants

Emmanuel “Toto” Constant (founder and leader of FRAPH) EN/FR 
Giv­ing “The Devil” His Due David Grann, The Atlantic Monthly, June 2001
A Haitian Leader of Paramilitaries was Paid by C.I.A.Stephen Engelberg, New York Times, October 8, 1994
Raoul Cédras (ruled Haiti 1991-1994 through a brutal regime) EN
Jean-Robert Gabriel (secretary for the general staff of the FADH and eventual spokesman for Cédras) EN/FR
Carl Dorélien (assistant chief of staff of the FADH under Cédras, responsible for discipline of military personnel) EN/FR
Philippe Biamby (Cédras deputy and FADH chief of staff) EN
Michel François (chief of police and secret police under Cédras) EN

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