Toto Constant is still in jail, pressure increases for his prosecution

Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, the notorious leader of the paramilitary Revolutionary Front for the Advancement and Progress in Haiti (FRAPH), which is estimated to have killed 3,000 people, and engaged in thousands of beatings, rapes and acts of torture from 1993 to 1994, was deported from the United States on June 23, 2020. Constant was one of 37 men convicted in absentia in 2000 for their responsibility for the Raboteau Massacre. At the time of the trial, Constant was allowed to live in the United States under an agreement with the Clinton administration. The massacre, which took place in April of 1994, was just one of the many crimes Constant committed, but the only one he has been tried for. Now back in Haiti, he is entitled to a new trial. The question is whether he will get one, or if his friends in the current government will find a way to dismiss the charges and let him go.

Over the last two weeks there have been some encouraging signs and also points of concern. On July 10, the presiding judge in the Gonaives court that has jurisdiction of Constant’s case indicated that he may have to release Constant because the court did not have a copy of the charging document from the 2000 trial. As this was perhaps the most famous human rights trial in Haiti’s history – indeed one of the most important in the western hemisphere – the charges were also published in the official state gazette, and exist on several websites. So, the judge’s comments were largely seen as disingenuous, and, perhaps more importantly, an indication that the court was looking for any reason to let Constant out.

In response, many mobilized to express their opposition to Constant’s release and to demand prosecution. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, former Chilean president, Michele Bachelet, said, “Impunity destroys the social fabric of societies and perpetuates mistrust among communities or towards the State. Accountability helps prevent feelings of frustration, bitterness and the possible desire for revenge which could lead to further violence and atrocities….It is essential for victims to obtain justice, truth and reparations, and for their dignity to be restored.”

This week the Association of Victims of the Raboteau Massacre also organized a press conference and demonstration in Gonaive, calling for Constant’s prosecution, as well as the prosecution of others convicted in the 2000 trial, including Jean Robert Gabriel, the current assistant chief of staff in Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s reconstituted army. Video below from the demonstration (in Haitian Creole).

Association of Victims of the Raboteau Massacre Demonstration in Gonaives

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti issued a briefing paper on the Raboteau massacre trail, which includes, “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.” You can read the full briefing paper here.

For more background on the Raboteau massacre trial, you can also watch the documentary Pote Mak Sonje (in English and with English subtitles)

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