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Marie Jeanne Jean et al. v. Carl Dorélien

Court United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division, United States
Case number 03-20161-CIV-KING/GARBER
Decision title Final Judgment
Decision date 16 August 2007
  • Marie Jeanne Jean
  • Vladimy Pierre
  • Michelda Pierre
  • Lexiuste Cajuste
  • Carl Dorélien
Other names
  • Jean et al. v. Dorélien
Categories Crimes against humanity, Torture
Keywords Torture; extrajudicial killing; arbitrary detention; crimes against humanity; Raboteau massacre
Other countries involved
  • Haiti
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Lexiuste Cajuste, an elementary school teacher who was arbitrarily detained and tortured by Haitian military forces in 1993, and Marie Jeanne Jean, whose husband was killed during the Raboteau Massacre in April 1994, filed a claim against former Haitian Colonel Carl Dorélien. The plaintiffs claimed that Dorélien was one of the most powerful members of the military regime that ruled Haiti from October 1991 to September 1994 and that, despite Dorélien’s position and influence, he failed to prevent the abuses committed by the Haitian military. In addition, the plaintiffs claimed that Dorélien was responsible for the military discipline and justice but failed to punish his subordinates who committed crimes.

The jury trial found Dorélien culpable for torture, extrajudicial killing, arbitrary detention, and crimes against humanity; and the Court of District ordered him to pay $4.3 million in damages to the plaintiffs.

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Procedural history

On 24 January 2003, the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) filed a complaint on behalf of Marie Jeanne Jean and Lexiuste Cajuste against Colonel Carl Dorélien in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. 

On 27 January 2003, Colonel Dorélien was deported to Haiti by US authorities. Upon his arrival, he was taken into custody for his in absentia conviction in the Raboteau trial, which resulted in the conviction of the leaders of Haiti’s 1991-1994 military dictatorship for their role in the 1994 Raboteau massacre.  Dorélien waived his right to a new trial and remained in prison. However, on 29 February 2004, he escaped from prison.

On 6 April 2004, the case was dismissed. The Court held, firstly, that Lexiuste Cajuste did not meet the ten-year statute of limitations applicable to the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (TVPA) which requires that suits for torture, extrajudicial killing and other torts committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States are brought within ten years from the date the cause of action arose. Secondly, the Court held that Marie Jeanne Jean failed to meet the requirement of exhaustion of domestic remedies.

On 1 December 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit overturned the decision. The reasoning of the Court of Appeals was based on the extraordinary circumstances of the Haitian military dictatorship, which led to the impossibility for the plaintiffs to meet the ten-year statute of limitations. In addition, the Court of Appeals held that the ATS does not require exhaustion of domestic remedies, and that the TVPA requires the defendant to prove that domestic remedies available have not been exhausted. The Court of Appeals stated that the defendant failed to prove that the plaintiffs did not exhaust domestic remedies, and the District Court erred in failing to require defendant to do so. The case was referred back to the District Court for trial.

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Related developments

In January and April 2008, the amount of $580,000 was distributed to Lexiuste Cajuste and Marie Jeanne Jean.

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Legally relevant facts

Colonel Dorélien was a member of the military high command of the military dictatorship that came into power in September 1991 after Haiti’s first democratically-elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide was overthrown by the military. The dictatorship lasted until the armed US intervention in October 1994. Throughout the military dictatorship, the Haitian Armed Forces, led in part by Colonel Dorélien, used repressive and violent tactics on a large scale to intimidate the civilian population and to strengthen the dictatorship’s control over the country.

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Core legal questions

Could damages be awarded since the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ complaints on the basis of both plaintiffs’ impossibility to meet the ten-year statute of limitations applicable to the ATS and TVPA, and defendant’s failure to meet the burden of proof as to the exhaustion of domestic remedies?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789  (Title 28 U.S. Code, Chapter 85, Section 1350)

Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (Title 28 U.S. Code, Chapter 85, Section 1350)

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Court's holding and analysis

The Court awarded Marie Jean $500,000.00 in compensatory damages, and $100,000.00 in punitive damages.

Lexiuste Cajuste was awarded $2,000,000.00 in compensatory damages, and $5,000,000.00 in punitive damages.

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Further analysis

S. Agnolucci, ‘Deportation of Human Rights Abusers: Towards Achieving Accountability, Not Fostering Impunity’, Hastings International and Comparative Law Review, 2006-2007, Vol. 30(3), pp. 347-384.

P. Avril, Justice Versus Politics in Haiti (2001-2004), Florida: Universal Publishers 2007.

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Instruments cited

Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789, United States

Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991, United States

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Additional materials

Frequently Asked Questions’, The Center for Justice and Accountability.

Haiti: Human Rights Lawyers Face a Rising Tide of Persecution’, The Center for Justice and Accountability.

Ex-Haitian colonel sued to pay massacre victim’s family’, The Miami Herald, 26 January 2003.

A. Chardy, ‘Former officers are sent back to Haiti’, The Miami Herald, 28 January 2003.

A. Buncombe, ‘The junta fugitive, a lottery win and a battle for justice in Haiti’, The Independent, 17 February 2007.

A. Chardy, ‘Haitian describes torture by police to jurors’, The Miami Herald, 21 February 2007.

USA: Haitian colonel ordered to pay $4.3 million for human rights abuses’, Human Rights Education Associates, 23 February 2007.

Haitian Colonel And Member of The High Command Ordered To Pay $4.3 Million For Human Rights Abuses’, The Center for Justice and Accountability, 23 February 2007.

A. Chardy, ‘$4.3M awarded in torture case’, The Miami Herald, 24 February 2007.

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Social media links

R. Alford, ‘ATS Lawsuit Against Haitian Colonel Goes Forward’, Opinio Juris, 5 December 2005.

B. Concannon Jr., ‘Victory for Raboteau Massacre Victims in Haiti’, Haiti, 21 May 2008.