MIAMI (AP) - A Haitian attorney wants a human rights commission to hold Haiti's government accountable for failing to provide reparations to the victims of a 2005 massacre at a soccer stadium and related attacks in a neighboring slum the following summer.
Evel Fanfan and attorneys from the Seton Hall University School of Law Center for Social Justice filed a petition in December before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of more than 300 Haitians who lost relatives at the stadium or had their homes burned down in the subsequent attacks.
Fanfan's case has stalled for years in Haiti's dysfunctional legal system, which often fails to prosecute even minor offenses. Thousands of prisoners have languished in squalid jails for years without being charged or seeing a judge.
"They've tried every single stop," said Rachel Lopez, a visiting professor at Seton Hall and Fanfan's co-counsel on the petition. "They felt there was no other avenue for them to get any other justice."
Police have long been accused of abuses in Haiti, but they rarely face prosecution. The former United Nations human rights monitor in Haiti, in leaving his post, criticized the country's government Thursday for the continuation of arbitrary and illegal arrests, for interfering in the justice system and for threatening journalists.
Human rights advocates have hailed recent testimony by former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier on alleged abuses during his 1971-86 regime as a small triumph for the country's judiciary.
Fanfan said pressuring Haiti's courts to take his case will force the Caribbean country's government to prove that it's serious about promises of reform and renewal in the wake of a catastrophic 2010 earthquake.
Duvalier's hearing is just for show, he said. "That's why the case of Grand Ravine is the case where we can prove that justice is working or not," Fanfan said.
"We want the state to they agree that they made those victims," Fanfan said. "Secondly they need to give them damages. They need to rebuild the houses that they burned."
According to the petition, the Haitian National Police and a civilian gang killed at least a dozen people when they stormed an August 2005 charity soccer match sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The game was held in a poor Port-au-Prince neighborhood that was a stronghold of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
More than a dozen police officers were detained but they never were charged. They eventually were released.
Gangs emboldened by the lack of prosecution then attacked the Grand Ravine neighborhood, another Aristide stronghold, in July 2006, destroying homes and killing more than a dozen people, according to the petition. No arrests were ever made.
Fanfan visited the U.S. this week to help launch a campaign to raise awareness about the case and to seek donations for the victims.
The commission, which promotes human rights in the Western Hemisphere, has previously taken up the causes of Haiti's poorest victims alleging that their government had failed to protect them.
This week, it urged Haiti's government to immediately take steps to head off violent evictions and provide clean water and security to residents of a camp for people displaced by the 2010 earthquake. It also has pushed Haiti's leaders to prevent sexual violence against women and girls in displacement camps.
Seton Hall University School of Law Center for Social Justice's summary of the Grand Ravine case: http://law.shu.edu/programscenters/publicintgovserv/csj/haiti/grand-ravine-case.cfm
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