Emmanuel Constant

15.03.2012 ( Last modified: 31.05.2016 )
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Emmanuel “Toto” Constant was born on December 27, 1956. Constant was Secretary General of the paramilitary organization FRAPH, “Front Révolutionnaire Armé pour le Progrès d’Haiti” (Armed Revolutionary Front for the Progress of Haiti) at the time the unconstitutional and brutal military regime led by Raoul Cédras (see “related cases”) governed Haiti from October 1991 to October 1994.

The three-year military dictatorship was characterised by widespread state-sponsored human rights violations committed by the Haitian Armed Forces and FRAPH. The practices of the military and FRAPH included extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, and rape and other torture and violence against women. Several thousand people were killed during the period of military rule. These abuses also caused thousands of Haitians to flee the country, often in crowded, unseaworthy boats.

From the beginning of the military dictatorship, the Haitian Armed Forces used civilian attachés or paramilitaries to support their campaign of intimidation and repression against the people of Haiti. In 1993, Constant and others provided the name “Front Révolutionnaire Armé pour le Progrès d’Haiti” (Armed Revolutionary Front for the Progress of Haiti) to the principal paramilitary organization active in Haiti. The other name more commonly used by the organization was “Front Révolutionnaire pour l’Avancement et le Progrès d’Haiti” (Revolutionary Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti). Under either title, the group was known as FRAPH, a pun for the French and Creole word “frapper,” meaning “to hit” or “to beat”.

Constant, whose father was an army commander under the former Haitian Dictator François Duvalier, used Duvalier’s notorious “Tonton Macoutes” paramilitary units as a model for the formation of FRAPH. Under Duvalier, the Tonton Macoutes were officially labelled the “Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale” (National Security Volunteers or “VSN”). The VSN operated parallel to and in conjunction with the army while reporting directly to Duvalier.

Constant recruited many former VSN members into the ranks of FRAPH. In 1993 and 1994, FRAPH worked in concert with the Haitian Armed Forces in their campaign of terror and repression against the civilian population of Haiti. FRAPH members received arms and training from the Haitian Armed Forces who were running the government, and FRAPH was used by the military to maintain control over the population.
With the financial and logistical support of the Haitian Armed Forces and certain Haitian civilians, FRAPH killed, arbitrarily detained, raped and otherwise tortured or mistreated civilians in the poorest neighbourhoods and regions of Haiti. They also looted and burned or destroyed homes in an effort to break the resistance of the population to military rule. Rape of women was utilised in Haiti as a technique to terrorise the civilian population after the coup d’état in 1991. FRAPH committed rapes across the country during this period. FRAPH used rape and sexual assault to punish and intimidate women for their actual or imputed political beliefs, or those of their husbands, or to terrorise them during violent sweeps of pro-Aristide neighbourhoods.

Constant was accused of having been involved in the Raboteau massacre. This atrocious event, which took place April 18 to 22, 1994, in Raboteau, Haiti, consisted of an attack by military and paramilitary units on pro-democracy activists under Haiti’s 1991-1994 dictatorship (see “spotlight” for more information about the Raboteau Massacre trial). As Secretary General of the paramilitary organization FRAPH, Constant was considered to have been one of the persons in charge of the Raboteau massacre.

In September 1994, the United States military arrived in Haiti to secure the return of the democratically-elected government headed by President Aristide. The high command of the military regime fled Haiti, escaping to nearby countries. In December 1994, the Haitian government issued a warrant for Constant’s arrest. Constant fled Haiti to the Dominican Republic. He then travelled to the United States, entering on 24 December 1994. After a public outcry, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service initiated deportation proceedings. A judge ordered Constant deported to Haiti in September, 1995. That order has never been executed. More recently, President Aristide requested the U.S. to execute the deportation order in a public speech in September 2003.

legal procedure

During a brief episode of constitutional order created after Haiti’s first peaceful transfer of power in 1996, the judiciary of Haiti pursued an investigation of human rights violations committed under the military regime. Constant was charged under Haitian Criminal Code of Criminal Conspiracy and Improbity. As accomplice of the Raboteau massacre he was also charged of homicide and attempted homicide, illegal arrest and detention, followed by torture, property offence, crimes and misdemeanours against the constitution, pillage, theft, assault and battery, damage or destruction of property. Other leaders of the military regime were also prosecuted (see “related cases”).

On 16 November 2000, a Haitian trial court convicted Emmanuel “Toto” Constant of murder, in absentia, for his role in the Raboteau Massacre, a military/paramilitary attack on civilians in which FRAPH participated. The case was based on command responsibility and accomplice theories. The repression was considered to have been organized systematically and on a national scale. It was noted that Gonaïves, and particularly Raboteau, had been targeted throughout the coup years, and that the leadership was well aware of this repression. The attack was considered to have been planned and covered up by national military and civilian leaders.

Constant received the mandatory sentence of forced labour for life. Under the Haitian Code of Criminal Procedure, if those convicted surrender or are arrested, they have the right to a new trial. The Court also issued a civil damages judgment against the defendants and in favour of the victims, for 1 billion gourdes (about $43 million US).

An NGO in the US, the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), filed a civil suit in December 2004 against him for his responsibility in attempted extrajudicial killings, torture, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, violence against women and crimes against humanity.

In July 2008, Constant was convicted in Brooklyn, New York, of mortgage fraud and faced up to five to fifteen years in prison, before then being sent back to Haiti to serve a life sentence.

The suit filed by CJA resulted in Constant being sentenced by a ferderal court in New York to pay $19 million to three women who survived gang rapes and other violence committed by paramilitary forces under Constant’s control. Constant was found liable for torture, including rape, attempted extrajudicial killing, and crimes against humanity in connection with his role as the leader of FRAPH.

On 1 December 2009, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the judgment for $19 million against Constant.


Haiti’s Raboteau Massacre trial was a major development in international law in 2000. The case was a milestone in the international fight against impunity for large-scale human rights violations. The core of the prosecution’s case was eyewitness testimony.

The trial concluded on November 9, 2000 when, after six weeks of trial and five years of pre-trial proceedings, a jury in the Haitian city of Gonaïves convicted sixteen former soldiers and paramilitaries for participating in the April 1994 Raboteau Massacre. Twelve of these were convicted for premeditated murder and received the mandatory sentence of forced labour for life. The other four received sentences from four to nine years.

A week later, the judge convicted thirty-seven more defendants in absentia, including the entire military high command and the heads of the paramilitary FRAPH (Front Révolutionnaire pour l’Avancement et le Progrès d’Haïti). The in absentia defendants all received the mandatory life imprisonment, but they are entitled to a new trial if they are arrested or return to Haiti. The case was based on command responsibility and accomplice theories.

The Raboteau case marked a sharp break with a long tradition of impunity in Haiti. The case was the most complex in the country’s history, and was the first broad prosecution of commanders for human rights violations.

On 3 May 2005, the convictions of at least 15 of the Raboteau defendants that took place on November 9, 2000 were overturned in one fell swoop by Haiti’s Supreme Court in a murky ruling. But the annulment of the convictions appeared to apply only to those convicted at the jury trial, and not to the other self-exiled defendants convicted in absentia, such as paramilitary leader Emmanuel Constant, and the three top leaders of the military dictatorship, Raoul Cédras, Philippe Biamby and Michel François. (see « related cases »)

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