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Judgment Against Haitian Death Squad Leader Upheld

DECEMBER 2, 2009—A case that Associate Professor Jennie Green began working on five years ago has achieved another victory, and she says she is pleased that a brutal violator of human rights is being held accountable for his campaign of rape and attempted killings.

A judgment of $15 million in punitive damages and $4 million in compensatory damages against Haiti's former death squad leader Emmanuel "Toto" Constant for rape, other torture, killings, and crimes against humanity during his 1991-94 military rule in Haiti has been upheld by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Constant moved to the United States in 1994 to avoid arrest in Haiti. Subsequently, three Haitian women who had been raped, tortured, and terrorized by paramilitary forces commanded by Constant brought suit against him. Their stories provided sufficient evidence that the defendant had used military force to threaten and dominate the country's civilians, the Court ruled. The Court relied on its prior ruling in a 1995 case against Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, now on trial in The Hague.

The lawsuit was filed in 2004 by the Center for Justice & Accountability, a San Francisco-based human rights organization; the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting constitutional and human rights; and the law firm of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal.

Green, a senior staff attorney at CCR before coming to Minnesota, was a member of the legal team working with the plaintiffs in the case against Constant and a U.S. case against Karadzic. She notes that the ruling upholds an important legal principle that those who work with a military regime, even if they are not government officials, can be held liable for human rights abuses.