Haitian Court Overturns Massacre Convictions
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, May 10 -- Haiti's Supreme Court has overturned the convictions of 38 army and paramilitary leaders who were sentenced for their roles in a 1994 massacre, human rights groups said.
The men were sentenced in 2000 in connection with a raid on the seaside slum of Raboteau in which several supporters of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide were killed. Most of the defendants were in exile and were tried in absentia. It was not clear how many had been imprisoned.
"The trial was annulled. We suppose it was on a technicality," Jean-Claude Bajeux of the Ecumenical Center for Human Rights said Monday. The Supreme Court has yet to make the decision available in its entirety, he said.
The slayings in Raboteau were part of a series of attacks that targeted supporters of Aristide in the months before the September 1994 U.S. invasion that restored him to power. Aristide, a charismatic former priest, became Haiti's first democratically elected leader in 1991 but was ousted by the army seven months later. He was reelected president in 2000.
Supporters of Aristide, who was ousted from office for a second time after an armed rebellion early last year, reacted with anger.
"This shows the current government is partisan, revengeful, hateful and not serious about justice," said Gerard Gilles, a former senator in Aristide's Lavalas party.
After Aristide's most recent ouster, a U.S.-backed interim government was installed and a U.N. peacekeeping force was sent to help restore order.
During the killings at Raboteau, witnesses said, soldiers and thugs burst into dozens of homes, beating and arresting Aristide supporters. People who tried to flee were shot. It is not clear how many were killed, because soldiers prevented relatives from retrieving the bodies. Witnesses said at least 15 people were killed and that the bodies of other victims were washed out to sea.
Brian Concannon, an American lawyer who helped prepare the prosecution's case in the 2000 trial, criticized the ruling.
"The Raboteau trial stood for the possibility of justice in Haiti. . . . It was praised as a landmark in the fight against impunity," he said. "The legal case for overturning the verdict was extremely weak."
The decision likely opens the way for the release of Louis-Jodel Chamblain, one of Haiti's most feared death squad leaders, who has twice been convicted of murder, once in connection with the 1994 slayings. Last year, Chamblain helped lead the rebellion against Aristide.