By Sam Bojarski
In April 1994, armed members of the paramilitary group Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH) attacked and killed residents of Raboteau, who had been demonstrating in favor of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Among the perpetrators was FRAPH leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, who would soon flee to the U.S., where he remained for 25 years, despite being convicted in absentia in 2000 for the role he played in the massacre. On June 23, Constant was deported to Haiti and immediately arrested by authorities upon his arrival.
Despite his connections to Haiti’s current ruling party, Constant is, in some respects, part of Haiti’s past, according to media blogger Jean Junior Joseph.
“Many youngsters don’t know Constant. Many don’t care about him coming to Haiti or not,” Joseph told the Haitian Times in a message. But he added that the former death squad leader has allies in the current government.
“Most of (the) people in PHTK are Constant’s ally. On the other hand, Aristide’s fanatics don’t forget him. They know he is around,” he said.
Although decades have passed since the deadly Raboteau massacre, lawyers and human rights groups have voiced concerns regarding the climate of impunity for human rights abuses that has characterized the current Haitian government. While Constant will likely receive a new trial in Haiti, COVID-19 and an underfunded judiciary may delay his case. His deportation to Haiti could add to the growing instability of the country.
In 2000, Constant and 36 other defendants were convicted in absentia and sentenced for the Raboteau massacre, although Haitian law gave these defendants the right to a new trial.
“He can ask for a brand-new proceeding pursuant to the existing ordonnance,” said Alexandra Filippova, senior staff attorney for the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH). The sister organization of IJDH, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), helped prosecute the Raboteau case on behalf of victims in the incident.
“It’s not an appeal of the judgement, because basically there are no presumptions of any guilt that would apply. For example, all of the elements of his crimes would have to be proven anew, although the same evidence can be used,” Filippova added.
Constant was one of 27 deportees to arrive in Haiti on June 23, carried on the seventh U.S. deportation flight to arrive in Haiti since the country closed its borders to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Nicole Phillips, legal director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance also told the Haitian Times that Haitian courts are certainly capable of giving Constant a fair hearing, citing the Raboteau trial as a landmark example of judicial accountability. But she questioned whether the Moise administration has the political will to prosecute him.
“What we’re afraid of is that there’s going to be some sort of sham trial, where witnesses won’t be called, where there really won’t be independence of the judiciary,” Phillips said.
“The U.S. embassy has a special role in Haiti of ensuring judicial accountability. We’re hoping that Ambassador Michele Sison exercises that role considering all the investment the U.S. government has made in ensuring an independent and functioning judicial system,” she added.
While Constant is currently being held in jail, the climate in Haiti means his future is uncertain, according to Pierre Esperance, executive director of the Haitian National Human Rights Defense Network. Constant can easily pose a security threat in the near future, said Esperance, who is based in Port-au-Prince.
“Anything can happen in Haiti because of the impunity and corruption. Anything can happen with him,” Esperance said in regard to Constant.
Esperance also noted that the PHTK ruling party has close connections with associates and former members of FRAPH, which played a key, extra-governmental role in upholding the coup regime of Raoul Cedras, who wrested power from Aristide in 1991 and ruled the country until late 1994.
Constant led the paramilitary group, which was responsible for thousands of assassinations, rapes and tortures, many directed at supporters of Aristide. For at least part of his time as FRAPH leader, Constant was on the CIA’s payroll.
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