A machete attack on a Haitian woman in October 1993 disfigured her face, removed a piece of her neck, and caused her to lose her right forearm, but it did nothing to diminish her defiance.
Alerte Belance told her story to shocked reporters from the international press in early June, when she announced a $32 million lawsuit against the organization she holds responsible–FRAPH (pronounced “Frap”), the Front for Advancement and Progress in Haiti.
The Center for Constitutional Rights filed the suit on June 1 in US. District Court in Brooklyn under the Alien Tort Claims Act. The act permits resident aliens whose rights were violated in other countries to file cases in the United States.
Belance told reporters that she was dragged from her Port-au-Prince home last October by several men who came looking for her husband, a vocal supporter of Haiti’s ousted president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Belance said her husband fled the house moments before the men arrived.
They took her to a field outside of town known as Titayen, a notorious “killing field,” and left her for dead after striking her numerous times with a machete. Despite horrific wounds, Belance made it to a hospital, then to the U.S. Embassy where she, her three children, and her husband were granted political asylum. They now live in Newark, New Jersey, but still fear for their lives.
Belance’s attorney, Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told reporters that the FRAPH can be sued in the United States because the organization is now operating in at least two North American cities. They routinely issue anti-Aristide press releases to the mainstream media, often criticizing international sanctions against Haiti. Last May, the organization held a small rally and march across the Brooklyn Bridge and on to the United Nations on Haitian Independence Day. The group’s two main cells in the United States are in Miami and New York City. Ratner says the FRAPH may be responsible for up to 5,000 political murders since Aristide’s ouster in 1991–including those of two Aristide supporters in Miami. The group’s other large cell is in Montreal, Quebec, where the Haitian exile community is under constant watch.
Haiti experts say the FRAPH has become a major force in that country, working alongside the Tontons Macoute, a paramilitary unit originally organized by Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier in the 1950s.
Attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights have obtained identification documents belonging to members of the FRAPH which carry the Haitian military’s insignia–evidence that Haiti’s death squads have direct links to the military.
“This suit is critical as a means of revealing the true character of FRAPH,” Ratner says. “They are killers, not an organization only engaging in free speech. They must be stopped and driven out of the United States and Haiti.”
In past years, similar suits filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act named former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos and former Haitian dictator Prosper Avril. The suit caused Avril to flee Miami; he returned to Port-au-Prince to avoid prosecution. Belance’s lawsuit marks the first time such a suit has been filed against an alleged terrorist organization. Beth Stephens, CCR co-counsel in the case, says, “Lawsuits such as this give us a way to fight back against death squads, which have inflicted so much pain on Haiti and around the world.”