An unbroken chain in victories in CCR’s Filartiga suits continued in July 1194 when a federal magistrate awarded $41 million damage judgment to the victims of prosper Avril, a former Haitian dictator. for violating their human rights.
The decision in this case–first in which any Haitian dictator or member of the military has ever been held responsible in any court of law anywhere for human rights abuses–is the latest success using the principle established in Filartaga v. Pena Irala, a 1980 CCR suit.
Once a close advisor and financial director for the Duvalier dictatorship in the 1980s, Avril suspended all constitutional guarantees when he became president in a 1988 coup. In 1989 his troops arrested the six plaintiffs in the case (including Evans Paul, the former mayor of Port-au-Prince) and interrogated, beat and tortured them, just after they had announced a month-long national campaign of non-violent protest calling for democracy in Haiti.
The four-year legal battle to bring Avril to justice began when CCR sued Avril in U.S. District Court of Southern District of Florida, demeaning damages for the torture, cruel and degrading treatment, and false imprisonment which the plaintiffs suffered under Avril’s military rule. During the course of the case, Avril fled Haiti when President jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected, then back to Haiti again under the Cedras regime. In January 1993, the court denied the motion to dismiss the case, and discovery began in February 1993. the court ordered Avril to return to Miami in October 1993 for a default judgment, meaning that since Avril did not challenge the plaintiffs’ assertions, they could be considered true. Such a judgment was finally rendered by the federal magistrate in February 1994.
CCR attorneys are now engaged in determining how to enforce the judgment.
Matthew Chancere, Jose Luis Morin, Beth Stephens, Michael Ratner, David Cole, and Peter Weiss; with Harold Koh and the Lowenstein International Human Rights Law Clinic of Yale Law School, Susan Matthews, Ursula Werner and William Crenshaw