The Massacre at Raboteau

The Massacre at Raboteau began April of 1991, pro-democracy candidate Jean-Bertrand Aristide won the Haitian presidency. Immediately following his victory, the de facto military dictatorship (FRAPH) Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, obstructed Aristide's right to take office with a coup d'etat. In response, the citizens of Raboteau demonstrated, disseminated pro-Aristide literature, and even hid fugitives. During this overthrow of the nascent democratic government, FRAPH beat and killed 26 victims, according to News Haiti, but unofficial estimates put the total at 50.


In the same month, FRAPH invaded every home in Raboteau, arresting, beating and, sometimes, throwing their victims like garbage into open sewers. They also pursued those who escaped, stalking the citizens, arresting, torturing and/or shooting them. They even went so far as to commandeer citizen fishing vessels, shooting at escapees fleeing by sea. As a final malicious act, FRAPH refused to let victims' relatives claim their bodies.

The Criminal Tribunal of Gonaïves tried the case, with Brian Concannon and Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) prosecuting the defendants on behalf of their clients. They and other Haitian and International attorneys fought for five years to bring the Raboteau Massacre defendants to trial, the case being the most significant human rights trial in the Americas, in 20 years. BAI not only represented the victims during the trial, but worked closely with special police investigators. Before the trial, an international team of forensics experts exhumed and analyzed the bodies of three victims killed during the massacre, and DNA evidence extracted corroborated the victims' reports.

During testimony, it was revealed that the High Command had fore-knowledge of the abuse paramilitary forces had heaped on the Raboteau people, during the de facto military's regime from 1991 - 1994; in fact, Haiti's whole military structure approved of the repeated attacks on pro-democratic Aristide supporters. In allowing the Massacre to happen, the High Command violated military regulations and international law.

At trial, 59 people were tried for their crimes against the Raboteau people, some in absentia. High-ranking officials of the 1991 - 1994 de facto regime were among those absent at trial, chiefly Emmanuel "TOTO" Constant, founder of FRAPH. The jury convicted 16 of 22 defendants and all 37 in absentia, giving them life sentences. This victory overturned Haiti's historical propensity to stage wide-spread political assaults, in violation of international law.

On the defendants' appeal, the case went to the Supreme Court, whose jury represented a cross-section of Haitian citizens. Shockingly, the Court, in May of 2005, reversed the verdict of the imprisoned defendants, in defiance of the Haitian Constitution of 1987. The Court also refused the victims a re-trial, but unfairly gave the absent defendants a right to a re-trial. Outraged, Amnesty International protested the decision as a "huge step backwards." Denied appeal, the Raboteau Massacre victims brought a civil action against the High Command, and in May 2008 were awarded over $400,000 in punitive damages from Col. Carl Dorélien, who escaped to Florida when democracy returned to Haiti.

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Read more: jean-bertrand aristide, Jean Bertrand Aristide, gang, Raboteau, massacre, FRAPH, 1991, Security Crime Law and Order

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