By Jacqueline Charles 

As concerns mount that Haitian former paramilitary leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant could become the latest accused torturer to walk free in Haiti, the U.S. government wants Haiti to know that it has a responsibility to carry out justice. 

“The victims of the Raboteau massacre deserve justice, and the Haitian prosecutors have the responsibility to ensure accountability by making sure facts are presented and adjudicated,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson told the Miami Herald.

Constant, 63, was deported last month by the Trump administration to Haiti, where he faces life imprisonment on murder and torture charges stemming from the killing of political opponents in the seaside village of Raboteau, outside of the city of Gonaives and north of the capital. 

He and the paramilitary group he founded, the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s 1991 ouster by the Haitian army, have been linked to thousands of deaths, as well as rapes and torture of Aristide supporters.

The violence perpetrated by Constant, his paramilitary group and the army was a key reason for the 1994 U.S. intervention in Haiti. The Clinton administration deployed 20,000 troops to restore democracy.

Last week, the chief prosecutor assigned to Constant’s case, Sérard Gasius, told the Herald that he doesn’t have any documentation about Constant’s alleged crimes or his 2000 murder conviction in absentia for the 1994 Raboteau massacre. 

Without any files, Gasius said, he may be left with no choice but to free Constant, who sits in a jail in the nearby city of St. Marc. Constant’s June 23 deportation came 26 years after he fled Haiti and two months after his April release from a New York state prison, where he served 12 years on federal grand larceny and mortgage fraud convictions. 

“If there are no records or anything, I don’t think you can hold him in prison,” Gasius said. “He has rights.”

Gasius’ declaration immediately sent chills through human rights and diplomacy circles in Haiti, where Raboteau remains a stark reminder of not only a politically violent period but the ongoing difficulty that victims of such atrocities have in getting justice.

As recently as last year, two Haitian government officials and a former police officer-turned-gang leader were linked to a massacre in the La Saline slum in Port-au-Prince, where men, women and children as young as 4 were shot to death, their bodies then fed to dogs and pigs. No one has been held accountable despite calls for justice from human rights groups and the U.N. Security Council.

Justice has also been evasive in the Raboteau killings, despite two separate trials and dozens of convictions. One of the accused who was convicted in absentia along with Constant, Jean Robert Gabriel, today is a member of the high command of President Jovenel Moïse’s revived Haitian army. Continue reading

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