The Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a $19 million judgment Tuesday against Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, a former Haitian paramilitary leader who had been found liable for crimes against humanity committed under his watch—including torture, and rape as a mode of torture. As noted in “Constant Sorrow,” Bernice Yeung’s account of her jailhouse interactions with the disgraced (and deluded) thug boss, Constant had been sued by Haitian refugees after fleeing to the United States. The three women said they had suffered gang rapes and other atrocities at the hands of Constant’s minions. Here are more details from the Center for Justice and Accountability, the human rights group that brought the original lawsuit:
The Second Circuit ruled that plaintiffs had presented sufficient allegations that Constant had “worked in concert with the Haitian military to terrorize and repress the civilian population,” relying on the legal standard the Circuit set forth in its prior ruling in Kadic v. Karadzic (against Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, now on trial in the Hague). The court also rejected Constant’s attempt to argue that he could not defend himself because of his incarceration in New York prison for mortgage fraud, holding that he was not even in prison at the time he was served with the lawsuit.
The $19 million damages award was the culmination of an extraordinary journey by these three women who were targeted because either they—or their husbands—were pro-democracy activists. This case marks the first time that anyone has been held accountable for the campaign of rape that destroyed so many families in Haiti. And, perhaps more importantly, this case gives a voice to the countless other women around the world who have been victims of state-sponsored sexual violence. In holding that rape is a form of torture, this decision was a critical addition to the body of law prohibiting sexual violence.
The women never saw a penny the first time around, and it remains to be seen whether they will this time. It’s unclear what assets he has and, as Yeung portrays Constant, the man is a manipulative snake who attempts to charm people into getting what he wants. Behind bars pending trial on mortgage-fraud charges—for which he was ultimately sentenced—he still harbored illusions of one day returning to power in Haiti.