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Grand Ravine Case: Stop the Silence

About the Case

On August 20, 2005, a corrupt group of Haitian police officers working with local gang members attacked the residents of Grand Ravine, a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, Haiti at a soccer stadium, where some 6,000 spectators were watching a USAID-sponsored soccer match. The police locked the gates of the stadium and then opened fire while gang members attacked civilians with machetes. Newspaper accounts cite casualties 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. Since that day, attacks against the residents of Grand Ravine have continued yet no one has been brought to justice. Several investigations were launched into the events, with the government arresting seventeen police officers. However, they were never charged and were eventually released. Last December, the Center for Social Justice joined AUMOHD, a Haitian organization that represents the victims, to file a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in an effort to obtain justice for the victims and make their voices heard.

The Story | Port-au-Prince, Haiti | August 20, 2005

Approximately 6,000 people gather to watch "Play for Peace," a USAID-sponsored soccer match aimed at discouraging gang violence in the neighborhoods of Martissant and Grand Ravine in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Before the match begins, a leaflet entitled "The Police + The People = The Solution" is distributed throughout the stadium to the audience. The leaflet accuses the residents of Grand Ravine of being assassins, rapists, and thieves. It encourages others to attack them with "machetes, sticks, bottles, and rocks." It also orders spectators to "give the police all the information they have about the whereabouts of 'the rats.'"

At halftime, more than a dozen police trucks filled with anti-riot police officers surround the stadium. The heavily armed, uniformed police officers are led by Carlo Lochard, the Division Commissioner of Police and Director of the Western Department. Members of a civilian gang, later known as "the Little Machete Army," accompany the police into the stadium. They carry machetes engraved with the initials "PNH" ("Haitian National Police").

The police order the spectators to lie down on the ground as Commissioner Lochard quickly closes and locks the gates behind him with a padlock. The police open fire on the crowd. People begin to panic and scatter. Several people climb trees and scale the walls of the stadium, attempting to flee the indiscriminate, merciless killing. Some escape the gunfire of the arena only to be apprehended and attacked by police officers and civilians armed with machetes who lie in wait just outside the stadium.

Inside the stadium, members of the Little Machete Army move methodically through the terrified spectators, lifting up their heads one by one in order to identify so-called "bandits" from Grand Ravine. Once a "bandit" is identified, the gang members hack the individual with machetes or police officers assassinate the person.

After the attack, bodies are found in and around the stadium. Some victims are believed to have suffocated in the stampede of people trying to exit the stadium. There are also reports that the police attempted to cover up their crimes by having corpses rushed away in police ambulance or by stuffing bodies into the toilets at the stadium. Additional victims are later found dead in a local morgue.

It is estimated that up to 30 people are dead as a result of this brutal massacre. Twelve deaths have been corroborated and documented by human rights organizations committed to bringing the perpetrators of this violent attack to justice.

Grand Ravine | August 21, 2005

The day after the massacre brings more destruction at the hands of the Haitian police and some of the same members of the Little Machete Army that had carried out the prior day's carnage. Residents of the neighborhood flee into the mountains when they see the killers approach. The machete-wielding gang members forcibly remove several suspected Lavalas supporters from their homes. The people of Grand Ravine watch as their homes are burnt to the ground.One witness later reports hearing the police call out, "La se kay yon rat" ("there is the house of a rat") as the homes are set on fire.

Unpunished, the perpetrators of these brutal attacks continue to persecute the residents of Grand Ravine. At the funerals held for the victims killed in the massacre, members of the Little Machete Army taunt family members and friends of the victims, referring to them as Lavalas scum as they entered the church.

The family members of the victims along with survivors fought for justice in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Various Haitian officials promised adequate investigations into the attacks and reparations for the victims, including Prime Minister Jacques-Édouard Alexis, but these promises remain unfulfilled. UN officials also claimed to be investigating the attacks, yet no reports or findings from the investigations have ever been publicly released.

Grand Ravine | July 6, 2006

A second brutal massacre is carried out by the Little Machete Army less than a year after the initial attacks. During the night of July 6, 2006, the gang surrounds the neighborhood from both sides, entrapping the residents of Grand Ravine. Members of the Little Machete Army lure Grand Ravine residents out of their homes by yelling, "[W]ake up, wake up, we're being attacked!" As the victims step out of their homes, they are shot or attacked with machetes. The assaults continue into the morning, when the gang sets several homes ablaze.

Between 16 and 21 people are murdered, most killed "execution-style," with a single shot to the head. Among the dead are three women and four children.

Grand Ravine | July 26, 2006

A third attack on the neighborhood causes 300 residents of Grand Ravine to flee as more victims are shot and more homes are burned. The residents escape their homes with only the belongings they can carry. They travel three miles to a makeshift refugee camp run by the Haitian Evangelical Baptist Union. Conditions at the camp are crowded and food is scarce.

Aftermath

The Inspector General of the PNH initiates an internal investigation since police officers were involved in the incidents. It concludes that the operation was conducted illegally and recommends that certain police officers and members of the Little Machete Army be prosecuted for murder and assault with a deadly weapon.

Seventeen police officers are initially arrested. The Prosecutor submits the case to Judge Perez-Paul who shortly thereafter releases the defendants pending further investigation. Despite assurances that witnesses and family members of the victims would be called to testify before the trial court, they never were.

Evel Fanfan, the attorney for the victims, makes continuous efforts to move the case forward through ongoing communication with the Court, advocacy, and letters to and meeting with various government officials. Eventually, Evel Fanfan is told by the court's clerk that the case is too political, there will not be a judgment in this case, and that his advocacy could get him in trouble.

The perpetrators of these attacks continue to threaten victims and their attorney. Victims have been intimidated and attorneys working on the case have been threatened. In September of 2006, Bruner Esterne, President of the Grand Ravine Community Council for Human Rights and witness to the August 2005 massacre, is murdered by three unknown individuals. Evel Fanfan receives continuous death threats against himself, his staff, and his family, including his three children, likely as a result of his advocacy in this case. These threats culminate in an attempt on his life on Tuesday, October 23, 2012.

In December 2012, the Center for Social Justice joined AUMOHD, a Haitian organization which represents the victims, to file a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in an effort to seek justice for the victims.


About Evel Fanfan | Human Rights Lawyer, Activist

Human Rights Lawyer, Activist, President of AUMOHD (Action des Unites Motives pour une Haiti de Droits)

Evel Fanfan is a human rights attorney in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He works to promote human rights and dignity through legal assistance, community organizing, and training to empower local citizens to advocate for their rights.

In representing the victims of the Grand Ravine Massacre, Evel has fought tirelessly to help the survivors in their search for justice. He has pressed the UN, the Haitian government, the Haitian National Police, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for progress in the case. Mr. Fanfan has received repeated threats to his life and his family because of his work on the Grand Ravine case. Despite the 2006 murder of Bruner Esterne, President of the Grand Ravine Community Council for Human Rights, as well as an attempt on his own life in October of 2012, Mr. Fanfan continues to urge the Haitian government as well as the international community to provide justice for the victims of Grand Ravine.

About the Center for Social Justice (CSJ)

Seton Hall University School of Law's Center for Social Justice (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. Lori A. Nessel, Esq., is a Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Social Justice. Rachel Lopez, Esq., is a Visiting Assistant Clinical Professor at the Center for Social Justice.

In 2012, the CSJ worked with AUMOHD to file 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.

Past Efforts to Obtain Justice in Haiti

In the immediate aftermath of the August 2005 massacre, various officials promised adequate investigations into the attacks. For instance, a few days after the attacks, Lt. Col. Philippe Espie, the head of MINUSTAH in Haiti, announced that the United Nations ("UN") mission in Haiti would launch an inquiry into the events. UN Civilian Police declared they would investigate the origin of the machetes to determine who orchestrated the attacks. Thierry Fagart, chief of the Human Rights Section of the UN mission in Haiti, also said that his office was investigating the incident by interviewing witnesses and viewing footage of the massacres.

Despite the promises made, not one of these entities ever publicly released a report or shared any of the findings from their investigations.

The Inspector General of the Haitian National Police ("PNH"] also initiated an internal investigation since police officers were involved in the incidents. The PNH report concluded that the operation was conducted illegally and recommended that certain police officers and members of the Little Machete Army be prosecuted for murder and assault with a deadly weapon.

Additionally, although the Inspector General recommended that nearly a dozen other officers should be terminated from their positions, not one of the officers involved in the massacre was ultimately terminated for their actions that day.

Evel Fanfan and the other members of AUMOHD have written numerous letters to the prosecutor, the court clerk, members of Parliament, and other Haitian governmental officials. When no one responded to AUMOHD's letters, AUMOHD delivered a petition on September 27, 2006 to the Prime Minister, the President, the National Police of Haiti, and others, addressing the massacres of August 2005 as well as the massacres in July 2006.

Throughout 2007 and 2008, AUMOHD organized countless demonstrations, sit-ins, and press conferences in order to publicize the case. On February 16, 2008, AUMOHD met with Prime Minister Jacques-Édouard Alexis to discuss the ongoing threat of violence in Grand Ravine. The Prime Minister agreed to work with AUMOHD to ease the violence and compensate the victims of the massacres. The Prime Minister ordered the Minister of Justice, Rene Magloire, to work with AUMOHD on the Grand Ravine case. However, none of this ever happened as the Haitian Parliament removed Prime Minister Alexis two months later.

In March of 2011, AUMOHD again met with the court clerk, at which time AUMOHD was told that the Grand Ravine issue was too political and that his advocacy in this case would get him into trouble. The clerk also told AUMOHD, "we can't have a judgment against the police [in this case]." To this day, AUMOHD has never received documentation of a decision issued by Judge Perez-Paul or an explanation as to why the officers were released prior to a final judgment. It also has not received any further communication from the clerk since March 2011, despite continued efforts to obtain a response.

On December 18, 2012, Lori A. Nessel and Rachel Lopez, attorneys with the Immigrants' Rights/International Human Rights Clinic at the Center for Social Justice and Evel Fanfan, an attorney and Executive Director of AUMOHD, submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights requesting that the Commission assert jurisdiction and bring justice to the victims of Grand Ravine. Currently, the request is pending before the Commission.

Documents, Resources & More...

  1. Read petition filed before the IACHR here.
  2. Sign petition here.
  3. Read Press Release here.
  4. Read Exhibits here (note: slow download).
  5. Watch videos here.