by Brian Concannon
Brian Concannon has worked on human rights in Haiti since 1995, first with the United Nations, subsequently with the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, which represented the victims of the Raboteau Massacre.
April 29 2004
"Bay Kou BliyeÉ"
On April 22, the tenth anniversary of the Raboteau massacre, Louis Jodel Chamblain surrendered to the Haitian National Police. Mr. Chamblain had been convicted, in absentia, for murder for Raboteau and for the execution of Antoine Izmery, a prominent businessman and Aristide supporter, who was dragged out of a full church and shot in 1993. The surrender follows intense criticism by human rights groups and members of the U.S. Congress of the de facto government's close relationship with Chamblain and other convicted criminals. How the authorities now handle the Chamblain case will tell much about their overall respect for human rights.
The Raboteau and Izmery killings took place while Chamblain was the #2 leader of FRAPH ("Front Révolutionnaire pour l'Avancement et le Progrès Haïtiens"), a paramilitary organization he founded with Emmanuel "Toto" Constant in 1993. FRAPH was responsible for thousands of killings and beatings during Haiti's previous de facto dictatorship (1991-1994). In the Raboteau trial, Mr. Chamblain was convicted as an accomplice and under a command responsibility theory. There was no evidence that he directly participated in the massacre, but there was evidence that other FRAPH members did, and that Chamblain created, armed and managed FRAPH precisely to carry out operations like Raboteau. Conspiracy and command responsibility are the same legal theories used to prosecute the leaders of Nazi Germany, the leaders of the Rwandan genocide and Yugoslavia's Slodoban Milosevic.
Mr. Chamblain was also a top leader in the rebel force that attacked Haiti in February. The rebels executed police officers and ordinary citizens accused of supporting the elected government, destroyed courthouses and police stations, and let the criminals out of every prison in the country. In March, Chamblain installed himself as a "judge" in Cap Haitian, deciding on punishments for people who were accused, but never got their day in a real court.
Back in 1994, Mr. Chamblain fled to the Dominican Republic when the elected government was restored, and refused to return to Haiti for his trials in 1995 and 2000. He was convicted twice of murder in absentia ("in his absence"), meaning that a judge decided on the basis of the available evidence, without Mr. Chamblain answering the charges himself. Haitian law bends over backwards to protect in absentia convicts' right to defend themselves: it allows them a whole new legal proceeding, with no presumption of guilt holding over from the the previous trial. In his new proceedings, Mr. Chamblain is entitled to the same rights as any other criminal defendant: the right to a lawyer, to present evidence and to question the evidence against him. He is also entitled to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
The victims of the Raboteau massacre and the Izmery assassination and their families also have a right to justice. They are entitled to a prosecutor who will vigorously pursue their accusations against Mr. Chamblain, and a court that will fairly judge him. There is reason to doubt that these rights will be respected in Haiti's current context. Mr. Chamblain and his rebel allies appear above the law: they effectively control large parts of the country, keeping the police and even international peacekeepers out of many areas. The law says Mr. Chamblain should have been arrested as soon as he entered the country, but he circulated openly for two months, with no attempts to arrest him. He turned himself in only under international pressure, and even then he first negotiated a deal with the de facto government.
We do not know the precise arrangements of Chamblain's deal, but Minister of Justice Bernard Gousse declared that Chamblain "had nothing to hide." This sends a signal, especially to prosecutors who are appointed by the Minister, that the Minister has already decided on the outcome.
Other signals have been sent: in March, the Raboteau case judge was beaten, reportedly in retaliation for convicting Chamblain the first time. The house of the Raboteau head prosecutor has been burned, most of the victims and witnesses are in hiding. The prominent judge who investigated the case is in fear for his life. The government has made no attempt to arrest the 15-20 other Raboteau convicts released from prison by the rebels. These include rebel leader Jean Tatoune, and three former members of the military high command.
There are many ways the case against Chamblain can be lost. He could prove his innocence in open court of course, but a prosecutor could present the case just poorly enough, omit a critical piece of evidence, or choose a sympathetic jury. The case could be dismissed behind closed doors by an investigating judge or by an appeals court. A technical "error" could be planted by a judge or prosecutor, and later invoked to dismiss the case or start a long appeals process.
The de facto authorities can disprove doubts about their willingness to bring Chamblain to justice by assuring a high quality proceeding within the courtroom, and appropriate security outside the courtroom. Mr. Chamblain's pre-trial proceedings and trial should rise to the same standards as his original conviction in the Raboteau trial: there should be extensive testimony by victims and witnesses, including international experts on the operations of FRAPH and paramilitary groups. There should be extensive written evidence, including military documents, human rights reports and expert's reports. Lawyers should be available for the accused and for the victims, and a team of aggressive, competent prosecutors should present the case to a well-chosen jury. The process should be an open one, conducted primarily in Haitian Creole, broadcast on the radio and television, and subject to observation and verification by Haitian and international human rights groups. As in the original Raboteau trial, the observers should be able to conclude, unanimously, that the trial was fair to victims and accused alike.
There can be no fair trial within the courthouse if judges, prosecutors, witnesses and victims cannot get there and back safely. Gonaives and the rest of Haiti need to be controlled by the Haitian National Police, not rebel gangs. The persecution of supporters of the elected government must be stopped, and punished. Haiti's laws- the Constitution and the criminal laws- must be proven stronger than the rebels guns and machetes.