Center for Social Justice Files Petition with Inter-American Commission Seeking Government Accountability for the State-Sponsored Massacre in Haiti
Newark, N.J. – On December 18, 2012, the Seton Hall University School of Law Center for Social Justice (CSJ) filed a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), demanding that Haiti be held accountable for failing to provide justice and reparations to the victims of a state-sanctioned massacre that occurred in 2005 and subsequent attacks on the residents of Grand Ravine. The petition was filed on behalf of the victims of the massacre and their family members and alleges that the Haitian National Police and state-sanctioned gangs committed severe violations of the Haitian Constitution and various human rights treaties.
The petition was brought by the CSJ and the Action des Unites Motivées pour une Haiti de Droits (AUMOHD), a Haitian human rights organization led by attorney and activist Evel Fanfan.
In August 2005, Haitian National Police and a civilian gang called the Little Machete Army closed off a soccer stadium in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Martissant, where some 6,000 spectators were watching a USAID-sponsored soccer match. The police then opened fire on the civilians while the Little Machete Army attacked civilians with machetes. Newspaper accounts cite casualties of as high as thirty individuals. Statements made by the police during the massacre suggest that they were seeking out supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the Fanmi Lavalas party. The following day, the police and gangs raided the Aristide stronghold neighborhood of Grand Ravine, forcibly detaining numerous Aristide supporters and setting fire to their homes. Several investigations were launched into the events, with the government arresting seventeen police officers. However, they were never charged and were eventually released.
This lack of accountability emboldened the gangs, who returned to attack Grand Ravine in July 2006. In two separate attacks that month, gang members descended upon the neighborhood late at night, luring residents out of their homes where they were met with machetes or gunfire. Houses were again burned to the ground. Conservative estimates indicate that sixteen people were killed and twenty houses destroyed. No one was ever arrested or prosecuted for these acts.
Despite the subsequent assassination of a human rights activist who advocated for justice on behalf of the residents of Grand Ravine and increasing threats and pressure, Fanfan and AUMOHD lobbied extensively for justice before the changing national governments and the police force. However, after seven futile years, AUMOHD and the CSJ have now turned to the IACHR. The situation has grown increasingly desperate, as a few weeks ago, Fanfan narrowly escaped an attempt on his life as he was leaving his law office following a labor meeting. CSJ Director Lori Nessel emphasizes that, “the Grand Ravine massacre case is an important test for the new Haitian Prime Minister. He must determine the extent to which government officers will be held accountable for their breaches of human rights. Haiti cannot hope to move forward as a country if it does not address its past, including, and especially, the Grand Ravine massacre.”
Under the American Convention on Human Rights, all peoples have, among other rights, the right to life, liberty, freedom of expression, and judicial protection. The Grand Ravine massacre deprived the citizens of Grand Ravine of these rights and the Haitian government’s failure to provide any form of meaningful justice to remedy the violations of these rights has only exacerbated the situation. Rachel Lopez, an attorney at the CSJ, commented that “the horrific crimes perpetrated by Haitian government officials constitute clear violations of the most fundamental human rights under international law. The end of impunity for these abuses would send a message that murder and torture are just as intolerable in Haiti as they are anywhere else.”
The Petition filed on DATE calls for further investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the massacre, better human rights training for police officers, and monetary reparations for the lives and properties lost or destroyed. “People in the community had begun to wonder whether they would ever get justice,” Mr. Fanfan noted. “But by filing this petition, we show that we cannot be scared off and will continue to demand that those responsible for the massacre and destruction be held accountable.”
The CSJ (law.shu.edu) is one of the nation’s strongest pro bono and clinical programs, empowering students to gain critical, hands-on experience as it provides pro bono legal services in a variety of legal fields. The CSJ and Seton Hall Law School have a long history of supporting the rule of law and advocating for human rights in Haiti; its longstanding relationship with civil society in Haiti made the CSJ a natural partner of AUMOHD.
AUMOHD is a Haitian human rights organization that was founded in 2002 by a group of lawyers, doctors, and social workers and whose main purpose is to promote the rights and dignity of the human person. AUMOHD provides legal assistance, community organizing, and training to empower local citizens so that they can understand and advocate for their rights.