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Cablegate: Haiti: Supreme Court Annuls Key Part of Raboteau

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/05/2014

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Douglas Griffiths, REASONS 1.5(B) AND

1. (C) Summary. On May 9, the Haitian Supreme Court issued
an unexpected ruling that effectively annulled one part of
the 2000 Raboteau trial. The decision, on procedural
grounds, annuls the convictions of the 15 people who were
actually present during the proceedings, but leaves unclear
whether they can be retried. The Court did not/not annul the
convictions of the 37 people who were convicted in absentia,
including senior officials of the Haitian army and FRAPH
leaders Louis-Jodel Chamblain (currently in jail here) and
Emmanuel "Toto" Constant (currently awaiting deportation in
the U.S.). The Gonaives prosecutor and the chief judge of
the Gonaives court have connived in an effort to get
Chamblain released illegally, but the IGOH has pledged not to
do so. Legitimate questions have been raised about the "show
trial" aspects of the 2000 Raboteau trial and improper
political interference from the then-Lavalas government in
the judiciary, and there may indeed be technical merit to the
Supreme Court's decision. It has nonetheless reinforced
perceptions that the judiciary under the current government
is biased against Lavalas partisans and more focused on
procedural matters than on justice. End Summary.

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Raboteau: Haiti's Killings Fields

2. (U) From April 18-22 1994, members of the Haitian military
and of the paramilitary FRAPH organization conducted a series
of killings, rapes, house-burnings and other acts of violence
in the seaside shanty neighborhood of Raboteau in Gonaives.
The violence, targeted at supporters of then-President
Aristide (in exile at the time), was one of the worst
atrocities of the 1991-94 coup years, and has gone down in
Haitian history as the "Raboteau massacre." Aristide's
return in 1994 led to the opening of an investigation, and
ultimately to a trial that ran from September-November 2000.
The GOH at the time leaned heavily on a team of lawyers and
investigators from the U.S. and other countries, including
the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (One prominent member
of the BAI, Brian Concannon, now runs the Institute for
Justice and Democracy in Haiti - IJDH). The Raboteau trial
resulted in the conviction in absentia of 37 military and
paramilitary members, including Chamblain and Constant, and
the conviction of 15 others present at the trial (including
Jean Pierre alias "Jean Tatoune"). The latter 15 appealed
and, four and half years later, the Supreme Court's decision
is the result of that appeal.

Sound legal basis, questionable result

3. (U) The Court's ruling, dated May 3 but not released
until May 9, is a procedural one. The Raboteau indictment
bundled several counts together that, according to the
Supreme Court, should not have been bundled, since some of
them require a jury trial while others do not. The Raboteau
trial was a jury trial, but according to the Supreme Court,
the prosecutor should have tried the two kinds of counts
separately. A Canadian lawyer who works closely with the
Embassy and has long experience in Haiti told us May 12 that,
in his judgment and that of several Haitian lawyers he
consulted, the Supreme Court was correct in its basic
decision. However, he said legal experts were puzzled at the
decision to go further and order the accused set free. Normal
procedure would have been for the Supreme Court to annul the
lower court ruling and then either re-try the case(s) itself
or send them back to the Gonaives court for (proper) retrial.
The Supreme Court did neither, instead ordering the
prisoners freed if there were no other cause. Pierre
Esperance of the National Network for the Defense of Human
Rights (RNDDH, formerly NCHR) told PolCounselor May 12 that
legally most of the accused would be required to stay in
prison until their retrial.

Chamblain shenanigans

4. (C) Esperance also confirmed reports from SRSG Valdes that
the chief prosecutor and chief of the court in Gonaives had
collaborated to produce a release order for Chamblain.
(Note: Chamblain has been in jail since his acquittal last
August for the Antoine Izmery killing, awaiting a similar
retrial on charges relating to the Raboteau killings. He is
being held at the same National Penitentiary annex as former
Prime Minister Neptune). He said the chief prosecutor
(Commissaire du Gouvernement) for Port-au-Prince would have
to approve any Chamblain release, and had given assurances
that he would not do so. Charge raised this issue with Prime
Minister Latortue May 11. Latortue assured us that that
Chamblain would not be released, saying Minister of Justice
Gousse agreed with him on this. He repeated this twice,
saying Chamblain would not be released as long as he was
Prime Minister.


5. (C) The Raboteau trial and convictions were viewed by
many here (and in the U.S.) as a milestone victory for
justice against the repressive military regime of the early
1990's. The process was not, however, free of political
pressure from the Lavalas government at the time. That plus
the involvement of U.S. and other international lawyers led
others in this polarized society to see the Raboteau process
as a "show trial" in which the convictions were a foregone
conclusion. As in most things there, there is something to
both sides. Public reaction has been surprisingly muted.
Human rights groups, with the exception of the RNDDH, have
been largely silent, disappointingly so given the importance
of the case. Lavalas partisans have complained to us
privately that this is another demonstration of the
anti-Lavalas bias of the judicial system.

6. (C) What counts now is how the government reacts, and
whether it moves to retry the accused properly. Latortue has
publicly said the government would do so, but is not clear
that his Justice Minister shares his enthusiasm for doing so.
Chamblain's release, particularly if it came while former PM
Neptune remains incarcerated on far more questionable
charges, would be a disaster. The PM's assurances that he
will not be released are important, but we will need to
maintain pressure on him and his team to ensure that the
government sticks to this commitment.

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