National Lawyers Guild Congratulates Raboteau Massacre Victims on Historic Victory

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) congratulates the victims of the Raboteau Massacre on their recent victory after a 14-year struggle in the courts of Haiti and the United States. On May 16, the victims received over $400,000 in court-awarded compensation.

NLG President Marjorie Cohn noted that “the Raboteau victims have provided all of us a lesson in fighting for justice. They have now won landmark cases in two countries from one of the poorest neighborhoods in the poorest country in the hemisphere. The Haitian prosecution in 2000 was one of the most important human rights cases anywhere in the Americas. The U.S. cases showed that persecutors and their money cannot hide from justice in the United States.”

The Raboteau Massacre was a joint military/paramilitary attack on a pro-democracy neighborhood during Haiti’s 1991-1994 de facto military dictatorship, carried out on April 22, 1994. With the help of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), a public interest law office in Port-au-Prince, the victims pursued senior military and paramilitary leaders in Haitian courts. The BAI is led by Mario Joseph, Haiti’s most respected human rights lawyer, and a member of the governing Bureau of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, an NLG affiliate. The case was tried before a jury in Gonaives, Haiti, during six weeks in 2000. The jury convicted 53 soldiers and death squad members (37 of them in absentia), and the court awarded the victims 1 billion Haitian Gourdes (US $26.3 million) in damages. One of those convicted in absentia, Col. Carl Doralien, a member of the de facto dictatorship’s Military High Command, fled to Florida after democracy was restored to Haiti in 1994. He later won $3.2 million in the Florida State Lottery.

The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) filed two civil suits against Doralien in Florida. The first was filed in state court to enforce the Haitian judgment. The second was filed in a Miami Federal Court under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victims Protection Act on behalf of one of the survivors of the Raboteau Massacre and a former union leader, Lexiuste Cajuste, who was brutally tortured by the Haitian military in 1993. In 2007, the state court ruled that the Haitian judgment was enforceable in the U.S., and the jury in the Miami case awarded the Raboteau victims and Cajuste $4.3 million in damages. Doralien has now exhausted all of his appeals.

“This case has been a model of international cooperation on human rights cases,” said Moira Feeney, an NLG member who spearheaded the case at CJA. “Attorney Joseph’s persistent preparation and the BAI’s victim-centered approach provided a strong foundation for building the cases in U.S. courts.”

“This day was a long time in coming, but it could not have come at a better time,” said NLG member Brian Concannon Jr., Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), who has worked on the case since 1995, with the United Nations, the BAI and IJDH. “With Haiti caught in a food crisis, the money will be a life-saver for some. With Haiti struggling through a democratic transition, the lesson that persistent, non-violent fighting for justice can bear fruit can be an inspiration for the whole country to work for a more stable and just future.”

The National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. It was founded in 1937 as an alternative to the American Bar Association, which did not admit people of color. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state. The Guild prepared the first two major human rights reports following the February 2004 coup d’etat against Haiti’s elected government. Guild President Cohn has written extensively on the international law implications of the U.S.-supported 2004 coup d’etat in Haiti. The Bureau des Avocats Internationaux is a public interest law office serving Haiti’s poor in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

The Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti is an Oregon-based human rights organization that works for constitutional democracy, justice and human rights in Haiti through litigation, information dissemination and grassroots advocacy.

CJA is a San Francisco-based human rights organization dedicated to ending torture and other severe human rights abuses around the world and advancing the rights of survivors to seek truth, justice and redress. CJA uses litigation to hold perpetrators individually accountable for human rights abuses, develop human rights law and advance the rule of law in countries transitioning from periods of abuse.

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