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Posted on Thu, Mar. 04, 2004
Rights abusers going free from Haitian prisons
For the past eight years, Brian Concannon has led an office in Haiti known as Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, created by the Haitian government in 1995 to help the victims of human rights abuses during Haiti's dictatorships.
The BAI worked with government prosecutors to gather evidence in some of the country's most notorious killings, including the so-called Raboteau Massacre, in which at least eight people, and possibly as many as 25, were killed. Some of the bodies were dragged off by dogs and never found. Scores
more were shot and wounded.
The April 1994 attack in Raboteau, a slum in the northern city of Gonaives, was carried out by soldiers and members of FRAPH, the paramilitary arm of the dictators who toppled President Je
an-Bertrand Aristide in 1991.
When Aristide returned to power in October 1994, Haitian prosecutors began investigating the Raboteau case and others. In 2000, 16 former soldiers and FRAPH members stood trial in a six-week court case broadcast live throughout the country. Twelve defendants were found guilty. Another 37 were convicted in absentia because they had fled Haiti.
The Raboteau trial was a landmark event. But now Concannon watches in disbelief as all of the convicted men are now free, released from prison in recent days by rebels.
Indeed, one of the rebels who marched victoriously into Port-au-Prince on Monday was Louis Jodel Chamblain, a FRAPH leader who was among those convicted in absentia for the Raboteau Massacre.
''It's a tragedy,'' Concannon told me during a phone interview from Oregon. "The people who should be in jail for crimes against democracy are running the country right now, killing democracy's supporters, terrorizing the population and trampling the Con
Concannon spends 80 percent of his time in Haiti. Now he doesn't know when he'll return. ''It's extremely frustrating, personally, to see eight years of work go down the drain,'' he said. "But the worst is my fears for my colleagues who took a much greater risk than I did.''
Concannon is afraid many of the people who worked with him gathering evidence and providing testimony will be targeted for reprisals.
''We've already started seeing it,'' he says.
Last year, rebels raided the prison in Gonaives freeing Jean Tatoune, a FRAPH leader who directed the carnage in Raboteau. ''When Jean Tatoune got out he started terrorizing people in Raboteau who testified against him,'' Concannon said. "Several people that I know had their houses burned down. In January the chief prosecutor in the Raboteau case had his house burned down.''
Other members of the Raboteau case freed from the National Penitentiary this week: Jean-Claude Duperval, Carl Dorélien a
nd Hebert Valmond. All three were members of the military high command during the military's control of Haiti from 1991 to 1994. Duperval was the Assistant Commander-in-Chief, Dorelien
was in charge of personnel, and Valmond was the head of intelligence. All three were deported from the United States to Haiti in the last year to begin serving their life prison terms.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Duperval called relatives in Central Florida after he was freed, saying his prayers were answered.
The Associated Press reported all 3,000 people held in the National Penitentiary were freed on Sunday. Among them, according to Concannon, was Jackson Joanis, accused of participating in numerous beatings and killings between 1991 and 1994. Convicted in the 1993 assassination of businessman
Antoine Izmery, he has also been charged in the murder of Fr. Jean-Marie Vincent. After Aristide was restored to power in October 1994, Joanis fled to Florida where he worked as a cab diver in Broward. He wa
s deported back to Haiti in 2002.
''Now he's free with the others,'' Concannon said. ``It's like going back in time.''
Perhaps one of the more notorious figures in Haiti's history released from prison this week was former Haitian Gen. Prosper Avril, who seized power in a coup back in 1988.
Concannon noted that a U.S. District Court found that Avril's regime engaged in ''a systematic pattern of egregious human rights abuses,'' and found him personally responsible for enough ''torture, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment'' to award six of his victims $41 million in compensation.
He was in prison awaiting trial on charges stemming from the 1990 slaughter of 11 civilians in Piatre.
Avril's son, Gregor, confirmed that his father was set free earlier this week. ''We didn't have much hope he would ever be free,'' Gregor said in a phone interview from Port-au-Prince. "I guess this [Aristide being forced from power] is what needed to happen for him to ge
t out of prison.''
What plans does the former general have now that he is free?
''I don't think he has any particular plans,'' Gregor said. "He plans to reconnect with his family and move on with his life.''