Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Michel François was born on 8 May 1957. In 1991, he helped topple Haiti’s elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. From October 1991 to October 1994, an unconstitutional and brutal military regime led by Raoul Cédras (see “related cases”) governed Haiti. As chief of the police and secret police under Cédras, François was one of the primary leaders terrorizing Haiti.
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. The three-year military dictatorship was characterized by widespread state-sponsored human rights violations committed by the Haitian Armed Forces and the paramilitary organization FRAPH (Front Révolutionnaire Armé pour le Progrès d’Haiti), in Haiti. 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.
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 utilized in Haiti as a technique to terrorize the civilian population after the coup d’état in 1991.
Joseph Michel François was accused of having been involved in the Raboteau massacre. This atrocious event, which took place 18 to 22 April 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 Lieutenant Colonel, François was one of the persons in charge of the 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, among others Joseph Michel François, fled Haiti, escaping to nearby countries. François fled to the Dominican Republic. When the Dominican Republic deported him in 1996 for plotting another coup in Haiti, François landed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where he was running a modest furniture store. It was here that he was arrested by U.S. prosecutors in March 1997 and charged with smuggling 33 tons of cocaine and heroin into the U.S. from his private airstrip in Haiti, while taking millions in bribes from Colombian drug lords. Francois denied it all and stayed in a Honduran prison until July, when the Honduran Supreme Court opposed its veto to U.S. extradition efforts for lack of evidence and released him.