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Deportation of Haitian death squad leader is waiting on Haiti government

Attorney Samuel Karliner, left, and defendant Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, a former paramilitary leader accused of human rights abuses in Haiti, appears in court for sentencing on mortgage fraud in October 2008 in New York.

JESSE WARD-POOL/GETTY IMAGES/TNS

By JACQUELINE CHARLES | Miami Herald | Published: June 13, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — The deportation of notorious Haitian death squad leader Emmanuel "Toto" Constant from the United States back to Haiti is a question of when, not if.

The Department of Homeland Security, responding to concerns raised by Democratic lawmakers Maxine Waters and Andy Levine about Constant's pending deportation to his homeland, makes it clear it still intends to remove the human rights violator and is working with the Haitian government to do so.

Citing the Immigration and Nationality Act, Deputy Director Matthew T. Albence said the ability to hold Constant is limited. Constant has been in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement since he was released from New York State prison in April following a 2008 conviction on mortgage fraud and grand larceny.

"To mitigate the risk of disruption posed by Mr. Constant's eventual removal to Haiti, DHS is working closely with the U.S. Department of State to ensure the Haitian government is prepared to receive him," Albence said. "We hope these efforts will encourage the Haitian government to create a plan to handle Mr. Constant's arrival and to permit justice and accountability to prevail."

Waters, a longtime Haiti advocate who serves as chair of the House Financial Services Committee, told the Miami Herald she's not satisfied with the response.

"The judicial system there is more than weak and we were concerned even without including a description of what's going on there now in some of these vulnerable communities," Waters said about the joint letter she and Levine sent to DHS and the State Department expressing concerns that the Haitian government could not protect its citizens from Constant.

"That's why we wrote to our immigration and customs to try and find out exactly what could be done to avoid him going back, particularly quickly," she added.

The letter does not provide a deadline for the return of Constant, who twice appeared on flight manifests for deportation since his release from prison and was once again spared on a deportation flight that arrived on Tuesday in Port-au-Prince. Behind the scenes, the Haitian government has been seeking to delay his return while also being forced to accept other deportees.

Even without Constant's return, Haiti's current government has its hands full. On Wednesday, the head of the National Association of Haitian Magistrates, Justice Jean Wilmer Morin, publicly confirmed that the country's judges had gone on strike to protest the justice system's paltry $14 million budget following the publication of President Jovenel Moise's budget four months before the end of the fiscal year.

The country's justices of the peace are also on strike since June 1. They are not only requesting more money, but new courthouses and the renewal of the terms of some judges.

Waters said the new developments are only some of the reasons why she doesn't have "any faith that the judicial system would be able to contain" Constant.

"He still has people there who were involved with him," she said, adding that she is concerned about those connections and "what this means further for Haiti, which is in a tough place right now."

A onetime CIA informant, Constant founded the brutal paramilitary force Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH. The force has been linked to the murders of at least 3,000 political opponents. In 2000, while he lived in the U.S., Constant was sentenced in absentia to life in prison by a Haitian court for his involvement in a 1994 massacre in the northern village of Raboteau in the Artibonite Valley. He was convicted along with 14 others.

Under Haitian law, Constant should be arrested at the airport and imprisoned after his arrival back in Haiti. He then has the right to invoke a new trial, and the procedure is started again from the beginning, with no presumptions from the previous trial. But the same evidence can be used.

Haitian law also gives him the right to ask for pretrial release, which former Dictator Jean-Claude Baby Doc Duvalier received when he arrived back in Haiti on Jan. 16, 2011, when he faced corruption charges. Constant can make pretrial challenges to the proceedings and argue that there is not enough evidence linking him to the massacre. He can also argue there are procedural flaws in the case against him, or that the statute of limitations has run out.

Brian Concannon, the former head of the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, which represented Constant's victims in the Raboteau trial, said the U.S. hope that "its efforts will encourage the Haitian government to create a plan' is meaningless."

"Rep. Waters' letter explained how the Moise' administration has provided ample cause for skepticism that it will 'permit justice and accountability to prevail,'" Concannon said. "Meaningful action requires that the U.S. government use its substantial leverage on the Moise' administration to insist that an effective prosecution is done."

Waters said Constant's return is only one of the issues that has her concerned about Haiti. She is disturbed by the overall troubling human rights environment which has led to several deaths recently and is affecting the response to COVID-19.

In a letter to U.S. Ambassador Michele Sison last month, Waters voiced her concerns about a series of violent attacks in several impoverished Port-au-Prince neighborhoods. The attacks, she said, had been carried out by a former policeman-turned-gang-leader Jimmy Cherizier, commonly known as Barbecue, while being accompanied by police.

Waters said in one attack Cherizier invaded the Cite Soleil shantytown, burned houses and killed people while accompanied by three Haiti National Police armored personnel vehicles. The attack reportedly followed similar attacks in the Port-au-Prince neighborhoods of Tokyo, Delmas and Pont-Rouge over two days, in which police officers allied with Cherizier stood by while houses were burned and people were killed.

"These reports, if true, represent an outrageous and appalling escalation of politically motivated violence against the people of Haiti," Waters wrote.

Human rights organizations in Haiti confirmed that on May 24 there were at least six killings in Cite Soleil. There were also allegations that five women were raped and more than 50 houses were looted and 20 others burned. At least 100 families have left the area in fear of their lives, a diplomatic source told the Herald. There was a second attack between May 26 and 27 where at least 10 people were injured. Police have yet to confirm that Cherizier was involved.

Cite Soleil's mayor also confirmed the attacks in a radio interview, though he did not mention the involvement of Cherizier. The shantytown, which has become a model of peace in recent years, had become so violent, he said, that he could not even pass out masks to the population to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reminding Sison of the ambassador's own background as a human rights officer in Haiti when she joined the State Department, Waters said she had a responsibility to "prevent the country from descending into a downward spiral of chaos and violence."

"As a United States Ambassador, it is your responsibility to develop good relations between the United States and the countries in which you serve," Waters wrote in the letter on May 28. " The United States cannot have good relations with countries that do not respect the rule of law and internationally recognized human rights."

Waters said she has yet to receive a response from Sison.

"It's an awful shame that Haiti has to continue to go through this kind of injustice without any regard for the possibility of having a decent quality of life for all of the people," Waters told the Herald. "They struggle, struggle and fight, fight, fight and on top of that, they have to be concerned about someone like Constant who founded and led the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti or FRAPH. It was brutal."

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