At a Glance
On December 1, 2009, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the $19 million judgment agains Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, former leader of Haiti's death squad FRAPH.
Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA) and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP
Three women, all survivors of torture at the hands of Haiti's death squad, FRAPH
The case was filed on behalf of three Haitian women who were brutally tortured by FRAPH. Two of the three plaintiffs were gang-raped in front of their families. A third was attacked by two FRAPH operatives and left for dead. The case sought compensatory damages.
As the former leader of the notorious Haitian paramilitary death squad known as FRAPH (the Revolutionary Front for Haitian Advancement and Progress), Constant was responsible for massacres, gang-rapes and other torture committed by FRAPH under his command. FRAPH was formed in August or September of 1993 to assist the Haitian military in blocking the return to power of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whom the military had overthrown in a coup in 1991.
After President Aristide returned to power, he issued an arrest warrant for Constant for his crimes committed during the time of military rule. Soon after, in December 1994, Constant fled to the United States.
In the late 1990s, the regional human rights body, the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, found that “the primary instruments of the repression inflicted on women and children in Haiti have been rapes and other types of violence and abuse committed by members of the army and policy forces, their armed civilian auxiliaries, the attachés, paramilitary groups and members of FRAPH, acting with complete impunity.”
Constant fled to the United States in December 1994. Despite the outcry from the Haitian community and human rights organizations, he lived and worked freely in New York until he was arrested in July 2006 in connection with a mortgage fraud scheme in Suffolk County, NY.
The lawsuit was filed in December 2004 by the Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA) and the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the three women, all survivors of torture at the hands of the FRAPH. Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP acted as pro bono co-counsel in this matter. Due to an on-going fear of reprisals, the plaintiffs had to submit their testimony anonymously. Two of the women testified in open court behind a screen.
On August 16, 2006, the court previously found Constant liable for torture, including rape, attempted extrajudicial killing, and crimes against humanity carried out as part of FRAPH's reign of terror during the period of military rule in Haiti from 1991 to 1994. The judgment marked the first judgment that has held anyone accountable for the state-sponsored campaign of rape in Haiti. In the order, Judge Stein stated, “Though no price tag can be placed on the atrocities visited upon these plaintiffs and other innocent civilians by FRAPH, plaintiffs are indeed entitled to monetary compensation and the Court will therefore grant it...”
On October 25, 2006, Constant was ordered to pay $15 million in punitive and $4 million in compensatory damages to three women who survived rape, other torture and attempted killings committed by paramilitary forces under his command. U.S. District Court Judge Sidney H. Stein, of the Southern District of New York, awarded the survivors a total of $19 million in damages after hearing testimony from the women and expert witnesses.