Massacres perpetrated in the 20th Century in Haiti

2 April, 2008

1902: Civil war

The government of Boisrond-Canal and General Nord Alexis fought Anténor Firmin’s rebel troops (Nord Alexis eventually prevailed and governed until 1908).

1902 (August 8): In Petit-Goâve, 450 civilians died in a fire which destroyed the town; it had allegedly been lit by the government forces of General Carrié to force out the pro-Firmin forces. Carrié later refuted the allegation.

_ * (Gaillard, 1993: 70-73)

1902 (September 17): 10 “disarmed peasants” from the government forces were killed on orders of the pro-Firmin general Laborde Corvoisier after a battle in Limbé (in the North of the country). The first six were adolescents. They were killed in an infirmary where they were being treated for wounds received during the battle. The other four were killed by a firing squad “as an example,” following an order from Laborde Corvoisier. The approximate number of civilians and unarmed combatants killed during the civil war remains unknown but, according to historian Roger Gaillard, the peasants paid “a heavy price.”

_ * (Gaillard, 1993: 180-181)

1902-1908: The dictatorial regime of Nord Alexis

1908 (March 14): At least 27 political opponents or alleged opponents, most of them from the intellectual and social elites, were arrested and executed in the evening of March 14; some were also mutilated. Massillon Coicou, one of the most prominent Haitian poets of the early 20th century, was the first victim of the killings (his death inspired Le Poète assassiné by the French poet Apollinaire.) Coicou’s body was decapitated, then thrown into a mass grave.

_ During the entire duration of the dictatorship of Nord Alexis, opponents were subjected to summary executions, usually upon direct orders from Alexis himself. However, women and children were systematically excluded from repression (even the families of the leaders of the various rebellions against Alexis’s regime). After the fall and exile of Nord Alexis, the various political and military leaders responsible for the March 14 killing were tried and pardoned.

_ *** (Jolibois, 1988: 46-48 and 213-54; Gaillard, 1995: 267-272 ; Gaillard, 1998: 86).

1915 (March 27): Guillaume Vilbrun Sam came to power after an insurrection and was elected President of Haiti

1915 (July 27): Armed supporters of President Vilbrun Sam and General Oscar Etienne’s troops slaughtered 167 political prisoners who had been jailed in the National Penitentiary (in Port-au-Prince) during the previous few days. They were killed in their cells by firing squads. The vast majority of the victims belonged to the social and intellectual elites of the capital. The following day, Vilbrun Sam and Etienne were dragged respectively from the consulates of France and of the Dominican Republic, where they had sought refuge, and were lynched by a mob. Several of the persons responsible for the killing (prison guards and soldiers) were tried and acquitted in July 1917. The lynching of Vilbrun Sam provided the pretext for the United States to intervene and occupy Haiti until 1934.

_ *** (Michel, 1998: 36-42; Gaillard, 1973: 87-99)

1915-1934: The United States Army occupied the country

1915-1920: Several thousand civilians were killed by the US occupying forces, along with the Haitian gendarmerie commanded by US officers, who were fighting an insurrection of armed peasants, the Cacos, mainly in the rural areas of the center and Northeast of the country. The Caco rebellion constituted the main armed challenge to the US occupation and had been organized and led by Charlemagne Péralte, who was killed on October 31, 1919 and later became a heroic national figure. The total number of victims remains unknown. Executions, most of which probably occurred during periods of open resistance to occupation, from July to November 1915 and again in 1919, seem very much alive in Haitian collective memory. In 1918 and 1919, many Caco prisoners were systematically executed once they had been disarmed, following explicit, written orders (in Gaillard, 1981: 32-39, 49, 214, 307). Torture of Cacos or alleged Cacos by the Marines was also common practice; this included the hanging of individuals by their genitals, forced absorption of liquids, and the use of ceps, simultaneous pressure by two guns on both side of the tibia bone.

_ In addition to executions and violence against unarmed combatants, the US Army and its Haitian auxiliaries (the gendarmerie) allegedly committed massive killings and acts of violence against the civilian population. According to oral testimony gathered by historian Roger Gaillard (1981b, 1983), these included summary executions, rapes, setting houses on fire after gathering their inhabitants inside them, lynchings, and torching civilians alive; one local public figure was buried alive. The names, in Créole, of the US officers who committed acts of violence against civilians, are still present in collective memory in the affected areas: Ouiliyanm (Lieutenant Lee Williams), Linx (Commandant Freeman Lang) and Captain Lavoie (Gaillard, 1981: 27-71). H.J. Seligman (in Gaillard, 1983), a US journalist who investigated the occupation, asserted that US soldiers practiced “bumping off Gooks,” (shooting civilians) as if it were a sport or a shooting exercise. A 1922 internal US army report recognized and justified the execution of women and children, presenting them as “auxiliaries” of the Cacos (in Gaillard, 1983: 259). A confidential memorandum of the Secretary of the Navy (in Gaillard, 1981: 238-241) criticized these “indiscriminate killings against natives during several weeks.” In July 1920, H.J. Seligman estimated the number of innocent victims (men, women and children) at 3,000. Gaillard (1983: 261), adding innocent victims and Cacos killed in combat throughout the occupation, reached the number of 15,000.

_ In addition to the repression of the rebellion, between hundreds and thousands of civilians died or were killed during forced labor operations called corvée, mainly the construction of roads throughout the country. According to Trouillot (1990: 106), 5,500 people died in forced labor camps. Some civilians who had attempted to flee were killed. Others, who slowed down their pace of work, were killed with machetes (Gaillard, 1982).

_ The racism of the US Marines, most of whom were from the South of the United States (particularly Louisiana and Alabama), has been presented as a factor in the indiscriminate killings of “niggers who pretend to speak French” (in the words of a US general).

_ ** (Gaillard, 1983: 186-190, 237-241, 259-262; Trouillot, 1990: 102-107; Manigat, 2003: 71-74)

1916 (June 4): Caco General Mizrael Codio and 10 of his men were executed after they were captured at Fonds-Verrettes (Northeast of Port-au-Prince, by the border with the Dominican Republic) by US Marines.

_ ** (Gaillard, 1981: 82-88)

1919 (January): 19 Caco prisoners were executed in Hinche on US Captain Lavoie’s orders. In 1920, during hearings held by the US Navy, Lavoie was accused of this by other US officers. However, since no material evidence had been brought to the commission, no charges were brought against Lavoie.

_ * (Gaillard, 1981: 33)

1919 (November): At least two US planes bombed and shot at the civilian population of two villages of Thomazeau, in the southeastern region of the central plateau, and allegedly killed half of their inhabitants. The “bombs” may have been handmade or grenades thrown from the planes. Men, women, children and elderly people were killed. The survivors, hiding in the woods and terrified, wrote to a French priest residing nearby to ask for his protection. This letter constitutes the sole written testimony of the acts committed against them. Geographic (and cultural) isolation of the rural population in the center of the country impeded the flow of information and testimony on acts of violence committed in these areas. In rural areas, these attacks against civilian populations, starting in 1919, are still present in collective memory. According to US journalist Harry Frank (in Gaillard, 1981: 208), US pilots did not verify what “type of gathering” (a Caco camp, an open farmers’ market, or peasants on their way to church) they were attacking. Furthermore, on December 5, US air forces bombed the port of the city of Les Cayes, in the South of the country, one day before the December 6 killing, in order to intimidate the population. These attacks may have been the first ever carried out by air on civilian populations. From 1919 on, the US airforce in Haiti was composed of at least three planes and used five airports (that it built) throughout the country. In 1920, the US Navy investigation commission interrogated occupying officers regarding allegations of acts of violence committed by the air force, but the commission did not deliver any condemnations, or even make any formal accusations.

_ * (Gaillard, 1983: 40-42, 152 and 282; Gaillard, 1981: 205-213)

1929 (December 6): In Marchaterre, in the vicinity of Les Cayes (in the South of the country), the US Marines opened fire on a peaceful demonstration of peasants, killing between 12 and 22 of them.

_ *** (Castor, 1988: 173-175; Gaillard, 1983: 282; Renda, 2001: 34)


1934-1957: Return to Haitian and Civilian Rule

1937 (October): In the neighboring Dominican Republic, dictator Trujillo ordered the slaughter of 17,000 to 20,000 Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian origin by the Dominican army (the conventional number in the Dominican Republic is 17,000, although Saez (1988: 60) puts it at 20,000 ; Turits (2002: 590) calculated a total of 15,000 killed). The killings were part of Operacion Perijil (“perijil,” parsley in Spanish, a word that Haitians were allegedly unable to pronounce without betraying their origin; those who failed to do so were killed on the spot). In the northeastern region alone, up to 15,000 individuals were killed, most of them with machetes, between the 2nd and the 8th of October. Soldiers used machetes rather than firearms to prevent alerting the surrounding Haitian communities, which were exterminated afterward. On October 5, the Dominican army closed the border to prevent Haitians from escaping. In 1938 in Washington D.C., the Dominican Republic government agreed to pay US$ 750,000 (of which 525,000 were eventually paid) in compensation, but paradoxically, it refused to admit any responsibility for the killings in the document it then signed (Cuello, 1985: 456; Turits, 2002: 622-623). Shortly afterward, killings resumed in the southern part of the border region and lasted throughout the first six months of 1938; several hundred Haitians were killed during this period (several thousands according to Dominican historian Juan Manuel Garcia, 1983). The Trujillo regime’s policy of State-sponsored terror, as well as the racist, anti-Haitian ideology put forward by the regime and Dominican intellectuals, provided the context for these events, although Turits (2003), in a seminal work on these killings identified the defense of territorial integrity (against a perceived “Haitianization” of frontier areas), as a decisive factor. Turits (2003: 169) also contended that Dominican civilians did not participate in the killings, contrarily to Castor’s perception of the events (1988), as well as that of Haitian collective memory. Historians use the term “genocide” in reference to this event.

_ *** (Turits, 2002; Turits, 2003: 161-180; Roorda, 1998: 127-139; Saez, 1988, vol I: 60-70; Castor, 1988; Garcia, 1983; Cuello, 1985).

1957 (June 15-16): The Haitian army killed between several hundred (Leconte, 1999) and three thousand (Pierre-Charles, 1973) supporters of President Fignolé -- who was popular among the disenfranchised sectors of the capital city -- after having overthrown him and forced him into exile. Most of the victims had lived in the poor neighborhoods of Bel-Air, La Saline and Saint-Martin. General Kebreau, who was responsible for the killings, was nicknamed General Thompson, in reference to the automatic weapons used by his soldiers. Backed by politician François Duvalier, Kebreau proclaimed himself head of the executive branch of government and organized the September 22 elections, later won by Duvalier. It was during this period that the army established the basis for a totalitarian order (Trouillot, 1990: 152).

_ * (Pierre-Charles, 1973: 38 and 44; Leconte, 1999: 38)

1957-1986: The dictatorial Duvalier regime

François Duvalier, known as Papa Doc, was elected president with the army’s support in 1957 and ruled Haiti until his death in 1971. His son, Baby Doc, then replaced him and ruled until 1986. Papa Doc’s regime, the more brutal of the two, is said to be responsible for 30,000 to 50,000 assassinations and executions. The Duvaliers relied on a secret armed militia called Tonton macoutes (its official name was the Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale, or National Security Volunteers), which imposed a rule of terror on the Haitian population (Diederich and Burt, 2005). This regime qualified as a totalitarian one according to Trouilot (1990), who carried out a detailed study of the roots and forms of Duvalierism.

_ During this period, most of the killings and executions targeted small groups of individuals and therefore can not be listed here. The total number of political prisoners who starved to death, were executed, or died under torture in public or private prisons remains unknown. The regime did not formally record who was imprisoned and who was executed, nor did it even attempt to keep track of this. According to the National Palace Chief of Police, Jean Tassy, 2,053 individuals were killed from 1957 to 1967, in the police headquarters alone (Pierre-Charles, 1973: 56).

_ Beyond opponents of the regime, the targeted groups cannot be defined in traditional political terms, which made the Duvalierist violence fundamentally new (Trouillot, 1990: 166-170). Also, for the first time in Haiti’s history, women (Trouillot, 1990: 153 and 167), children and even infants were targeted by the regime. In several occasions, young children were tortured.

_ Contrary to the post-dictatorial periods in Latin America, efforts to record and document the killings and executions with precision were not successful, or were not officially recognized. The most exhaustive study was carried out by CRESFED, a local NGO (Pierre-Charles, 2000). For a detailed list of some of the victims of this regime, two victims’ and academic organizations’ web sites based in the United States can be consulted (Férère and Fordi9). For a detailed list of the most emblematic individuals responsible for executions and killings committed by macoutes and the military, see Pierre-Charles (2000: 45-49).

_ ** (Trouillot, 1990; Pierre-Charles, 1973 and 2000; Lemoine, 1996; Romulus, 1995)

1963 (April 26): In Port-au-Prince, macoutes carried out a series of assassinations of the families of alleged opponents to the government after a failed attempt to kidnap Papa Doc’s son Jean-Claude. macoutes typically raided a house of alleged opponents, killed its inhabitants, including elderly people, children and servants, with guns and machetes, before moving to another house of an alleged opponent of the regime. The Benoît, Edelyn and families were exterminated and their bodies left in full view in front of their houses. The Vieux family lost four of its members. Other individuals were killed in the street or while driving their car. The total number of victims was close to a hundred. Several dozens of people were also taken to the Fort-Dimanche prison in Port-au-Prince and were later “disappeared”, a method used afterward by the military regimes in Chile (1973-1989), Argentina (1976-1983) and Brazil (1964-1985). Most of the victims were from the military, social and intellectual elites of the country. The attempted kidnapping had been orchestrated by Clément Barbot, a macoute and former head of the secret services of Papa Doc, to whom he was close.

_ *** (Pierre-Charles, 2000: 85-86; Avril, 1999: 146-149; Interviews with witnesses)

1964 (August): Event known as the “massacre des Vêpres jérémiennes.” In the locality of Jérémie (in the Southwest of the country), army soldiers led by Lt. Abel Jerome, Lt. Sony Borge, Col. Regala and by macoutes Sanette Balmir and St. Ange Bomtemps killed 27 individuals (men, women and children); almost all of them belonged to educated mulatto families. All the perpetrators knew the executed families well. Several families from Jérémie (the Sansericq, Drouin and Villedrouin families) were entirely wiped out. A four-year child, Stéphane Sansericq, was tortured in front of his relatives before being killed. macoutes Sony Borges and Gérard Brunache extinguished their cigarettes in the eyes of crying children.

_ The websites mentioned above list most of the victims. These assassinations were ordered by dictator Papa Doc himself as a part of reprisals against an embryonic anti-Duvalier guerrilla group known as Jeune Haiti that had landed in the region (but none of them were in Jérémie). In fact, the killing also had ideological and racial dimensions, as Duvalier relied on a political ideology known as noirisme (“Blackism”), through which he claimed to promote the black masses against “mulatto elites.” Hence, the Duvalier dictatorship targeted mulatto sectors of society, seen as prone to political opposition, but also as illegitimate members of the nation.

_ None of those responsible for the killings and none of the perpetrators were brought to justice. In 1986, after the departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier, Colonel Regala, who sent the order to execute the Sansericq family, became one of the members of the ruling junta.

*** (Chassagne, 1999: 235-262; Pierre-Charles, 2000: 94-102)


1964 (July-August): Following a raid on June 24, 1964 by an anti-Duvalierist, Dominican Republic-based guerrilla group in the southeastern region of the country, the macoutes and the army carried out a vast repression operation and killed about 600 people in the towns of Mapou, Thiotte, Grand-Gosier and Belle-Anse. One of the killings has remained in collective memory as the “massacre of the peasants of Thiotte.” Men, women, children, infants and elderly people suspected either of having helped the guerrilla movement, or of not having opposed it, were slaughtered by the macoutes. Several families were entirely exterminated. A nine-year old child from one of them managed to escape but was later found and then brought to the Presidential Palace, where he was allegedly put to death by François Duvalier himself.

_ ** (Pierre-Charles, 2000: 90-94)

1967 (June 8): 19 military officers and high-ranking officers were killed in Fort-Dimanche by a firing-squad led by François Duvalier himself. All the victims were Duvalierists and close to the Duvalier family, or to Papa Doc himself. The rationale for the execution remains uncertain. The 19 officers may have been suspected or accused of treason by Duvalier, but historians reject this hypothesis and emphasize Duvalier’s the terrorist methods: he sometimes had his closest allies killed to ensure even greater submission from the military and the population. Statements by several officers have established that they did not know the reasons for their execution. The members of the firing squad, chosen by Duvalier himself, were high-ranking officers who were all relatives or close friends of the victims.

_ *** (Avril, 150-174 ; Pierre-Charles, 2000: 87-90).

1969 (April 5): Event known as the “massacre de Cazale.” In the village of Cazale (sometimes spelled Casale or Casal), North of Port-au-Prince, army soldiers and macoutes killed several dozen peasant families. A few weeks earlier, several young, light-skinned members of the Communist Party, a political party persecuted by the regime, including Alex Lamaute and Roger Méhu, had taken refuge in this town, assuming that they would blend into a population regarded as generally light-skinned (for having harbored many Polish soldiers after the war of independence). At the same period, locals had been embroiled in a tax dispute and had refused to pay taxes on the sale of agricultural products, which had alienated the Duvalier regime further. On April 3, several macoutes arrived in the area, set several houses on fire and raped an unknown number of peasant women. The following day, after the macoutes arrested two peasant leaders opposed to taxes, the local population burned down the mayor’s office and took down the black-and-red flag of the Duvalier regime (the original Haitian flag was blue-and-red). On April 5, 500 soldiers and macoutes arrived in the area and started the killing. At the end of the day, 25 bodies were found but 80 had disappeared and were never found. This represented the largest “forced disappearance” under the Duvaliers. Several families were entirely wiped out. In addition, 82 houses had been looted and torched. Cattle was killed or taken away by looting soldiers. Women were forced to dance and “celebrate” with the soldiers who stayed in the village.

_ *** (Benoit, 2003: 6-9; Pierre-Charles, 2000: 112-113)

1969 (April 14): About 30 young members of the Haitian Communist party, imprisoned in Fort-Dimanche, were executed outside the prison. A wave of repression hit the members and supporters of the Communist party during 1969, especially in Cap Haitian and Port-au-Prince. According to Pierre-Charles (2000), there were several hundred victims during this year alone.

_ * (Pierre-Charles, 2000: 105-113).

1969 (July 22): Massive execution of left-wing political prisoners, who had been arrested during the previous days and weeks. They were taken from Fort-Dimanche and executed, at night, in Ganthier, a village Northeast of Port-au-Prince, and then thrown into a mass grave.

_ * (Pierre-Charles, 2000: 125-129)

1971 (April 21) – 1986 (February 7): Regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier (“Baby Doc”)

The regime of terror and assassinations imposed by the macoutes and the military continued but no large-scale killings occurred during this period.

1977 (September 21): Eight political prisoners, who had been detained in Fort-Dimanche for several years, were taken out of their cells and shot by a firing squad in Morne Christophe, outside Port-au-Prince.

_ ** (Pierre-Charles, 2000: 78)

1986 (January 31): Army soldiers led by Colonel Samuel Jérémie killed nearly one hundred people in Léogane (Southwest of Port-au-Prince) during a demonstration of peasants who were (prematurely) celebrating the departure into exile of Jean-Claude Duvalier. (No subsequent reports from international human rights organizations mention this killing).

_ * (NCRH, 1986: 27-28)

1986 (February 7): Déchouquage of the Duvalier regime. Following Jean-Claude Duvalier’s flight and exile, a crowd of half a million people took to the streets of Port-au-Prince, chased macoutes and destroyed the symbols of despotism. The number of their victims remains unknown. According to Hurbon (1987), several macoutes were stoned and others were burned alive. In Delmas 31, the crowd discovered 7 prisoners at the private residence of macoute Ernst Bros (Pierre-Charles, 2000: 56). Most of the victims of this “popular justice” lived “downtown” and, therefore, were macoute chiefs of lesser importance or even “miserable wretches” (Trouillot, 1990: 155). About fifty Ougans and Mambos (priests and priestesses of the Voodoo religion) were killed for their links or alleged links with the Duvalier regime. Several dozens of individuals believed to be werewolves or witches were lynched by the mob.

_ * (Hurbon, 1987: 10-11, 155 and 143; NCHR, 1986: 53-59; Interviews with witnesses)


1986-1991: Military Coups and post-Duvalier repression

Between the fall of the Duvalier regime in 1986 and the December 1990 election, a series of short-lived military governments and coups d’Etat punctuated the 5-year inter-regnum. After a short period of collective hope, political repression resumed. Several notorious macoutes, such as William Régala, one of those responsible for the Vêpres Jérémiennes, were promoted to political posts. During this period, the social movements fighting for the establishment of democracy, human rights and the rule of law were persecuted by the military, former macoutes and paramilitary groups called “attachés.” The military killed political activists and journalists and organized their “disappearance.” According to Pierre-Charles (2000: 208), more than 1,500 people disappeared between 1986 and 1990, most of them under the rule of General Henri Namphy, between March and October 1987.

1986 (April 26): Event known in collective memory as the “massacre of Fort-Dimanche.” Army soldiers and “attachés” opened fire on a peaceful demonstration attempting to honor the victims of the Duvalier regime in the Fort-Dimanche prison (the date of April 26th was also in reference to the 1963 killing). The number of victims was 15 according to collective memory and 8 according to the Human Rights Watch report (1996). To this day, no judicial inquiry has been opened on this event.

_ *** (NCHR, 1986: 18-19; Human Rights Watch, 1996)

1987 (July 1-3): Army soldiers killed 22 workers on strike in the harbor of Port-au-Prince. The strikers were part of a broader movement for democracy. To this day, no judicial inquiry has been opened on this event.

_ *** (ICHR, 1988; Wilentz 1990; Pierre-Charles, 2000: 141)

1987 (July 23): Event known in collective memory as the “Jean-Rabel massacre.” In the vicinity of Jean-Rabel (in the Northwest of the country), paramilitary groups led by macoutes and acting upon orders from a local land oligarch, Rémy Lucas, killed at least 139 peasants (300 according to various human rights groups and the OAS, and 1,042 according to Nicol Poitevien, one of the self-proclaimed assassins). Even the most conservative estimate makes it one of the largest massacres on a single day in Latin America in the 20th century. This massacre occurred a few days after Lieutenant-General Namphy, one of the leaders of the ruling junta at the time, visited the area and publicly supported the Lucas family and their rights to the land they claimed. The dysfunctional Haitian judicial system, plagued with incompetence and the lack of resources, was unable to carry out and conclude its investigation of this event. Faced with considerable pressure from human rights groups, the Minister of Justice eventually issued an arrest warrant on September 13, 1995. In January and February 1999, Rémy Lucas, Léonard Lucas and Jean-Michel Richardson were detained for a short period. On July 23, 1999, the Minister of Justice created a judicial commission to supervise the investigation which, to this day (May 2005), has still not been completed.

_ *** (ICHR, 1988: 81; United Nations, 2000: 9)

1987 (July 29): Army soldiers fired on a crowd protesting against the army’s celebration of the anniversary of the foundation of the macoutes. The total number of victims, 22, was disputed. Soldiers collected several bodies, which were not seen again.

_ * Pierre-Charles (2000:143).

_ 1987 (November 29): Event known in collective memory as the “massacre de la ruelle Vaillant.” Under the rule of General Namphy, at dawn on an election day, a group of 50 to 60 armed men, composed of soldiers in civilian clothes as well as macoutes, killed at least 16 civilians in a polling station of the Ecole Nationale Argentine Bellegarde, a school in Port-au-Prince. The soldiers first shot at voters in the waiting line with automatic weapons, before continuing their attack with machetes inside the polling station. The fact that most of the victims were killed with machetes indicates that this was an attempt to terrorize the population and impede the voting process on that day. The total number of victims in Port-au-Prince that day was at least 34, although an observer interviewed by the ICHR (1988: 84) quoted the figure of 200. According to Danroc and Roussière (1995: 21), 60 other individuals were killed in the département (district) of Artibonite alone, also in an attempt to obstruct the election.

_ In 1991, the Minister of Justice of President Aristide’s first government accused army General Williams Régala, who was Minister of Defense at the time, of having ordered the killing and hence, requested his extradition from the Dominican Republic, where he was living in exile, but to no avail.

_ *** (ICHR, 1988: 81-84; Danroc and Roussière, 1995: 21; ICHR, 1992)

1988 (September 11): Event known as the “massacre de Saint-Jean Bosco.” Under General Namphy’s rule, unidentified armed men (probably former macoutes) killed at least 13 individuals (and wounded 80 more) inside the Saint-Jean Bosco church in Port-au-Prince, during Sunday mass. The assault lasted three hours, during which the attackers faced no opposition from the army, whose barracks were located opposite the church. This church was the parish of the priest (and future President) Jean-Bertrand Aristide, then a staunch opponent of military rule and Duvalierism, who may have been the original target of the attackers, before he was evacuated from the church. In 1991, the Minister of Justice of President Aristide’s first government accused Frank Romain, who was Mayor of Port-au-Prince at the time, of having organized the killing and hence, requested his extradition from the Dominican Republic, where he was living in exile, but to no avail.

_ *** (ICHR, 1988: 22-23 and 103; ICHR, 1992)

1990 (March 12): Event known as the “massacre de Piatre” (also pronounced Piâtre or Piastre). Under the rule of interim President Ertha Pascale Trouillot, in the rural area of Saint-Marc (in the Artibonite discrict, North of the capital), three dozen army soldiers and armed local civilians killed 11 peasants, in the villages of Piatre, Déjean, Dupervil, Ka Jan and Ti Plas, in the context of a land conflict between local peasants and big landowners. In December 2003, more than 13 years after the event, the investigative magistrate (who was the seventh to work on the case) issued a report indicting 53 suspects, including the various landowners and General Prosper Avril, for nine charges including murder.

_ *** (United Nations, 2000: 9, NCHR, 2004)

December 1990-September 1991: Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected President on December 16, 1990 and was sworn into office in January 1991.

He was overthrown and exiled on September 30, 1991.

1991 (January 7): In Port-au-Prince, mobs of civilians supporting President-elect Aristide chased and killed macoutes, alleged macoutes and other supporters and alleged supporters of the Duvalier regime, after a failed coup attempt led by chief macoutes and former government minister Roger Lafontant. The exact number of victims still remains unknown. According to an OAS report (ICHR, 1991), which does not provide details on its sources and its methodology, 75 individuals were killed and 150 wounded, all of them (sic) macoutes or persons directly associated with Roger Lafontant. These figures were contested by interviewed witnesses. Many of the victims targeted were believed to be voodoo priests because of their alleged involvement with the Duvalier regime. The killings were part of déchoukaj against macoutes, who were attempting to interrupt the democratic process at the time. Jean-Bertrand Aristide had not been sworn in yet when this event took place, and the interim government was led by Mrs. Trouillot, a civilian.

_ * (These events were often mentioned in interviews with witnesses and in an OAS report (ICHR, 1991: 469) but no exhaustive study has been conducted on the subject)

1991 (January 17): In Gervais, Artibonite, 12 peasants were killed and 8 “were disappeared” (while 20 others were wounded and 494 houses were allegedly set on fire). The background of the event, the persons responsible for it and the perpetrators seem to remain subject to discussion. According to a diocesian commission (Danroc and Roussière, 1995: 160-162), which photo-documented the event, the perpetrators were an army unit assisted by armed men acting on behalf of a local landowner. According to an OAS report (ICRH, 1991), the roots of the killing lie in a land conflict in the village of Terre-Cassée, near Gervais, Guyton and Coligny, opposing several peasant families and local small landowners since 1973. A few days prior to January 17, a Justice of the Peace had ordered the arrest of 27 peasants from Gervais after the destruction of a storage area belonging to another party to the conflict. On January 17, the Section Chief (a local official) and his subordinates killed a peasant while executing the Judge’s arrest order. Shortly afterwards, peasants from Gervais avenged this by killing the Section Chief’s subordinates. Later on the same day, peasants from Guyton and Coligny, assisted by army soldiers from Saint-Marc, Artibonite, travelled to Gervais and carried out further killings in retaliation.

_ ** (Danroc and Roussière, 1995: 160-162; ICHR, 1991: 470)


1991 (October 1) – 1994 (September 14): Military regime known as the “de-facto regime” led by Colonel Raoul Cédras

The military ruled until September 19, 1994, when US President Clinton ordered the US marines to intervene and reinstall democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The de-facto regime relied on paramilitary death squads known as FRAPH, which carried out most of the executions and persecution of opponents and alleged opponents. The total number of victims of this 3-year regime varies from 10,000 to 30,000 people according to different sources. Observers note that the poor were the main target of repression, although many well-known figures from the middle class, such as Aristide’s Minister of Justice, Guy Malary, and businessman Antoine Izméry, were also murdered by paramilitary groups.

In 1995, once constitutional rule and democracy had been restored, the Truth and Justice Commission investigated the crimes and human rights violations committed during this regime and published a detailed report (1995). The Haitian Ministry of Justice, with the help of several international human rights groups such as the OAS-UN joint civilian mission (MICIVIH) and the International Lawyers Office, prosecuted several individuals involved in murders and human rights violations. However, most of those responsible for the repression escaped prosecution. The founder and leader of FRAPH, Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, lives in exile in the United States, in spite of pressure from human rights organizations to have him extradited to Haiti. The leader of the de-facto regime, Raoul Cédras, lives in Panama. The archives of the FRAPH, that may contain crucial information on executions and various individuals’ responsibilities, are still in the possession of the US government to this day, which has refused to transfer them to the Haitian Ministry of Justice in spite of continuous campaigns from human rights groups.

_ *** (Commission Nationale de Vérité et de Justice, 1997; Americas Watch, 1991)

1991 (September 30, October 1): Coup. Army soldiers, former macoutes, and groups of armed men chased and killed members and alleged members of the pro-democracy movement, including supporters of President Aristide, during the coup perpetrated by a group of military officers led by Colonel Raoul Cédras. The number of victims is unknown but is said to be above three hundred for the first two days. At least 1,000 people were killed during the following few weeks, according to the Platform of Human Rights Organizations, the main human rights group at that time in the country.

_ *** (Commission Nationale de Vérité et de Justice, 1997 ; ICHR, 1993)

1991 (September 30 and the first few days of October): In the afternoon of September 30, a commando of army soldiers moved into the Lamentin 50 neighborhood, in the vicinity of Port-au-Prince, randomly opened fire on bystanders and private homes, and indiscriminately threw grenades into local houses. They allegedly wanted revenge for the murder of a sergeant from the local barracks earlier that day. Repression continued for two to three weeks and led to a total of 30 to 40 victims. According to local witnesses before the Truth and Peace Commission in 1995, several dead bodies were thrown into a nearby open mass grave dug on the soldiers’ orders; several youths were then executed after having dug the grave, and thrown into it; other bodies were allegedly carried away by a truck and “were disappeared.”

_ *** (Commission Nationale de Vérité et de Justice, 1997: Chapter V, b; Americas Watch, 1991: 4).

1991 (October 1 and 2): In the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Martissant, during the two days that followed the coup, army soldiers and paramilitary groups terrorized the local population and killed at least seven individuals, including one adolescent. This killing was allegedly carried out in retaliation for the burning of an army lieutenant’s home in the area during the night of October 1.

_ *** (Commission Nationale de Vérité et de Justice, 1997: Chapter V, section B).

1991 (October 2): Thirty civilians were killed by army soldiers in a single day in Cité Soleil, a shantytown of Port-au-Prince known for harboring many supporters of President Aristide, in retaliation for an attack against a local police station.

_ ** (Americas Watch, 1991: 4)

1991 (October 2): The army killed at least 7 individuals in Gonaives, Artibonite, including one child and one adolescent, during a demonstration in support of President Aristide.

_ *** (Danroc and Roussière, 1995: 71-79)

1993 (December 27): The FRAPH killed 37 people, while 26 others from the Cité Soleil shantytown were victims of “forced disappearance.” Over 1,000 houses were set on fire and destroyed by paramilitaries attempting to avenge the death of a FRAPH member in the area. According to witnesses, the FRAPH prevented inhabitants from fleeing their burning houses.

_ * (EPICA, 1994: 19, 44)

1994 (night of February 2-3): Killing named “Massacre de Carrefour Vincent” by the Truth and Justice Commission. In the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Carrefour Vincent, an undetermined number of army soldiers and paramilitary groups attacked a house with automatic weapons, tear gas and grenades. Seven of its occupants, aged 20 to 30 years, were shot and killed while fleeing the house. Only one body was recovered and the others may have “been disappeared.” The occupants of the house were members of a pro-democracy group. The MICIVIH carried out an investigation immediately after the event and concluded that it was a premeditated “collective murder.”

_ *** (Commission Nationale de Vérité et de Justice, 1997: chapter V, section B; MICIVIH, 1994)

1994 (April 22): Event known as the “massacre de Raboteau.” In Raboteau, a shantytown of Gonaives, Artibonite, army soldiers and FRAPH members killed 14 opponents to the regime in a well-planned operation. On November 9, 2000, after a highly symbolic trial broadcasted live on the radio and led by the judicial authorities with assistance from international organizations, including the United Nations, 16 individuals out of the 29 tried were sentenced to prison terms. Those condemned included Castéra Cénafils, an army captain, and Jean Tatoune, a FRAPH member. These sentences were seen as a historical victory over the impunity enjoyed by instigators and perpetrators of political crimes in Haiti. On April 21, 2005, the Cour de Cassation (the highest court in the country) invalidated this judgment; the court based its ruling on a 1928 law that prohibited trial by jury for multiple crimes, although this very law had already been nullified by the 1987 Constitution.

_ *** (United Nations, 2001: 17-18; Commission Nationale de Vérité et de Justice, 1997: chapter V, section C4; Concannon, 2001; Concannon, 2005)

1994-2004: Lavalas regime

The democratically elected President Aristide ruled from 1994 to January 1996, and again from 2001 to 2004. President Préval, who was democratically elected in November 1995, was in power during the interval from 1996 to 2001.

1999 (May 28): In a shantytown above the Carrefour-Feuilles neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian National Police (PNH) killed 11 people at night, during a routine patrol. According to MICIVIH forensic examinations conducted within days after the event, all of these 11 extra-judiciary executions were “carried out in cold blood”: the 11 individuals had been killed while lying down on the floor with both hands tied. Eight of the eleven victims were unarmed. Although this killing was not politically motivated, it provoked great concern since it was the first large-scale execution since the return to democracy and suggested that the army’s violent tactics against the poor had not ended, even though Aristide had officially abolished it. Following considerable pressure from the United Nations, the OAS and human rights groups, an internal investigation was carried out. In 2001, for the first time in Haiti’s history, police officers were tried for human rights violations; four of them were convicted and received the minimum sentence for such a crime according to the law, three years’ imprisonment. The Chief of Police in charge of the raid, Jean Coles Rameau, was extradited from the neighboring Dominican Republic, where he had fled one week after the event.

_ *** (MICIVIH, 1999: 5-6; United Nations, 2000: 15)

2004: Social instability and exile of Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Two years before the end of his mandate, President Aristide was destabilized by repeated, massive demonstrations led by student organizations since the end of 2002. Repression of these movements followed, then an armed rebellion erupted in January and February 2004. President Aristide went into exile on February 29, 2004 and found asylum in South Africa.

2004 (February 11): Event known as the “massacre de la scierie.” Fifty individuals, members of an anti-Aristide people’s organization known as RAMSICOM (sometimes spelled RAMICOS) were allegedly killed in the Scierie neighborhood of Saint-Marc by chimères (members of an illegal, armed pro-Aristide group) led by an organization known as Balé Wouzé, whose leader, Amanus Mayette, was then a member of the Haitian Parliament. A separate, detailed investigation of the event by a North-American human rights specialist in early 2005 put the total number of those killed at 27 (Fuller, 2005). At least two anti-Aristide youths, Jean-Baptiste Kénol and Joseph Leroy, were thrown alive into a burning building. According to press reports, Balé Wouzé terrorized the inhabitants of the area with the consent of the local police on that day. Most of the inhabitants were forced to flee the area and several dead bodies were eaten by dogs and rodents, as family members, fearing for their lives, preferred not to collect the corpses. At least two young women, “Anne” and “Kétia,” were raped in the pro-Aristide police station of Saint-Marc, where they had come to report the assassination of their spouses. Although the event was investigated by several prominent journalists and the human rights group National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR), its existence remains controversial and supporters of Aristide (who was President at the time), as well as the media in favor of him, deny it ever took place. The latter believe the “massacre” was manufactured to be used against President Aristide. A judicial inquiry was opened in July 1994. As of August 2004, the minister of Justice had asked for the United Nations and the OAS’ participation in carrying out forensic analysis. He had assigned two judges to investigate the event. Amanus Mayette was under arrest, though no charges had been brought against him.

_ * (For sources on the massacre thesis, see Roc, 2004; NCHR, March 2004; and Fuller, 2005; for sources that deny the very existence of the event, see Haiti-Progrès, 2004). These events have been covered by the media but to this day, no formal evidence of the scope of the killing has been revealed. This subject is politically and emotionally charged.



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Cite this item

Belleau Jean-Philippe, Massacres perpetrated in the 20th Century in Haiti, Mass Violence & Résistance, [online], published on: 2 April, 2008, accessed 17/05/2021,, ISSN 1961-9898
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