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posted Dec 14, 2012, 4:42 PM by MAX Louis

The Raboteau Massacre Trial: Case Review

- On April 22, 1994, three years after the coup d’état which overthrew the democratically elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the Haitian army and paramilitaries of FRAPH (Front for the Advancement of Progress in Haiti) surrounded the Raboteau neighborhood of Gonaïves, a city located at about 120 miles from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

During the night, soldiers and armed men from FRAPH pillaged and shot residents who tried to flee because of their continued support for the ousted leader, Aristide, and were plotting to organize his return from exile after the bloody coup d’état of September 30, 1991.


The group beat and tortured more than one hundred people and pursued those that were injured at hospitals even as far as Port-Au-Prince; movement that caused a least eight people to lose their lives as a result of this violent act. Worse yet is the fact that the militants group had forbidden the families of the victims to claim the bodies of their loved ones and resolved instead to rapidly burn or bury them, and in some cases, they were devoured by pigs or dogs or even washed away to the sea.


In 1997, after several judges had been resigned from the case following threats, I was appointed Judge in Gonaives with the delicate mission to investigate the Raboteau Massacre.


Many of those who followed the investigation of the Raboteau Massacre and the criminal trial which unfolded at the Justice Palace of Gonaïves closely will admit with me that the case had a political character, and that a good dose of objectivity is required for someone to write a review on the subject especially when he is the one who held the job of being the investigating judge in the matter.


To those who will not hesitate to criticize my work for personally doing the review of a case which I had the distinct pleasure of being the judge, I respond by saying that beyond my role as a judge, I am equally an intellectual who has the right to search and find the true motives behind the massacre while at the same time bring my contribution in the form of analysis in order to shed some light on a subject that create so much confusion even today in law and justice, namely,the trial of the Raboteau Massacre.


First of all, putting aside all partisan considerations and looking at it strictly from a legal point of view, the first question that I respond to is: “Does the trial have it’s raison d’être?" I clearly say, yes.To the extent that rights have been violated and people victimized, it is a matter of principle that the state intervenes to identify those responsible; bring them to justice; if found guilty, assign the necessary punishment, and provide for reparations for the victims.For, in a society where human rights are important and which goal is to be more just, honest and democratic, the right to impunity would never be an option.It is the job of the elected officials to establish a judicial process that would guarantee that each victim has recourse in the court of law against the authors of illegal acts done against him/her.


Many experts who have written on the case, for example Mario Joseph, Maxime Jean-Louis, David Gonzales, G. Dunkel, David Grann, have all arrived to the same conclusion about how the Raboteau case marked a sharp breakthrough of the long tradition of impunity in Haiti. Brian Concannon, an American lawyer and president of Institute for Justice and Democracy, a non-profit organization based in Dorchester-Boston, who has written many articles on the case had this to say:" Haiti’s Raboteau Massacre trial was a major, though under-reported, development in international law in 2000. The case is a milestone in the international fight against impunity for large-scale human rights violations. It can also serve as a model for other countries attempting to address the crimes of a dictatorship through national prosecutions after a democratic transition."


Jeb Sprague in his book, Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti, which investigates the dangerous world of right-wing Paramilitarism in Haiti and its role in undermining the democratic aspirations of the Haitian people, made this assertion:" One of the most significant human rights achievements in the years following the October 1994 return to democratic order in Haiti was the holding of trials in several high-profile cases of egregious past violations. These trials were crucial, not just as a means of ensuring that the truth about past violations emerged, but as tangible evidence, to a Haitian population which had suffered violent repression on a massive scale, of a newly-functioning rule of law and respect for human rights.


The holding of perpetrators from the disbanded Haitian Armed Forces, the Forces Armées d'Haiti (FADH), and the paramilitary Front Révolutionnaire Armé pour le Progrès d'Haiti (FRAPH), Revolutionary Armed Front for the Progress of Haiti to account for their crimes was nearly unprecedented in Haiti's history. The trials of those implicated in such grave violations as the 1994 Raboteau massacre and the 1993 assassination of pro-democracy activist Antoine Izmery gave hope that, for the first time, the cycle of political violence might well and truly be broken."


Amnesty International in a report on Haiti, March 3, 2004, under the title:" Perpetrators of past abuses threaten human rights and the reestablishment of the rule of law, called the Raboteau Massacre trial as “…one of the most significant human rights achievements in America."


In an article published in Associated Press on May 9, 2005, under the title "Haiti Court Overturns Slaying Convictions," with Peter Prengaman and Michael Morton who reported on this story from San Juan, Puerto-Rico concluded that:" "The Raboteau trial stood for the possibility of justice in Haiti ... It was praised as a landmark in the fight against impunity. The legal case for overturning the verdict was extremely weak."


Reed Lindsay in " Criticism follows court's decision" published in The Washington Times, August 2, 2000, ended his article by a comment from those words of Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch: "In a country in which the poor have been killed and brutalized with impunity for centuries, Raboteau was perhaps the only time that justice was achieved after a massacre, and in a scrupulously fair trial."


In Haiti, the right to justice falls directly under the responsibility of the State which has for obligations to investigate violations, to pursue the perpetrators, and if responsibility is established, to have them penalized.


The success of the Raboteau massacre trial brings us to another consideration totally essential in the fight against arbitrariness and outlaw situations.This is the result of a fair and impartial trial for the triumph of justice over all pressures from the people, governmental or foreign entities putting aside all personal feelings and standing for what is right.For, no matter what wrong someone is accused of, if it necessitates to be brought before the courts, the rules of procedure must apply in the same measure for all because the criteria for the right to a fair trial should be that of a-one-size-fits-all.One cannot judge someone accused of having committed violations against the property of another while not respecting himself, that is hypocritical at best.


This is why it should be said that the trial of the Raboteau Massacre symbolizes a real test for the Haitian justice system that is seeking credibility and confidence in the eyes of the rest of the world.Furthermore, this trial, instead of being considered as a quick example of justice rendered with the only goal of achieving rapid punishment against the perpetrators accused in the dock, should be viewed as the opportunity for the Haitian people to know the truth behind that dark period in their history, and of equal importance, the occasion for the Haitian judicial system to demonstrate that it could judge completely independently and without partiality.



1- Amnesty International. "Obliterating Justice, overturning of sentences by Supreme Court is a huge step backwards." May 2005.

2- Concannon, Brian. 2005. "Legal Analysis of Raboteau Case Reversal." Institute For Justice and Democracy, Dorchester-Boston.

3- Donnelly, John. "Justice Delayed: Showdown Looms in Haiti/Former Lawyer to try Ex-Officials in 1994 Massacre." The Boston Globe, June 11, 2000.

4- Dunkel, G. "Civil Suit exposes U.S. role in Haitian Massacres." Workers World, June 1, 2008.

5- Gonzales, David. "So That Tyrants Won't Rest." New York Times, August 2, 2000.

6- Grann, David. "Giving The Devil His Due." The Atlantic Monthly, June 2001.

7- Jean-Louis, Maxime. 2012. "The Debt of The Black Race." Charleston, SC Press, Florida 2012.

8- Joseph, Mario. "Haitian Massacre Victims Win Historic Victories in United States Courts." Boston Haitian Reporter, June 2008.

9- Prengaman, Peter and Norton Michael. "Haiti Court Overturns Slaying Convictions." Associated Press writers, Monday, May 9, 2005.

10- Reed, Lindsay. "Criticism Follows Court's Decision - The Raboteau Case." Washington Times, May, 17, 2005.

11- Reed Lindsay. "Haiti's 'huge step forward' pushed back." Toronto Star,May 14, 2005.

12- Sénat Fleury, Jean. 2009 . "The Challenges of The Judicial Reform in Haiti." French version translated by Tom Luce and Peter Luce, J.D. 2008, Tulane Law School, Berkley, California.

13- Sprague, Jeb. 2012. "Paramilitarism And The Assault On Democracy in Haiti." Latin America, Press, 2012.