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Three unnamed women sue Haiti’s Toto Constant

Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, 48, co-founder and leader of the Revolutionary Front for Haitian Advancement and Progress, or FRAPH, was served with the papers as he left the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Manhattan last month, said Moira Feeny, an attorney with the Center for Justice and Accountability, a human rights group base in San Francisco. According to the suit filed in federal court in Manhattan, the three women, who now live in the United States, claim that Constant was responsible for "extra judicial killing, torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, gender-based violence and crimes against humanity" that were carried out by members of FRAPH in Haiti, which they said was under his control more than a decade ago. The three women are not named in the suit because they fear reprisals against themselves or their family members for bringing the suit against Constant. Constant allegedly fled to the United States in 1994 after U.S. intervention restored democratically elected President Jean Bertrand-Aristide, whom FRAPH opposed. He entered the United States with a tourist visa and went into hiding in Queens at the home of an aunt or his mother in Laurelton. In 1995 the U.S. government bowed to demands from Haitian activists as well as the press and arrested him. In 1996, however, Constant was released from jail, with the Immigration and Naturalization Service saying that deporting him to Haiti would place too great a strain on the legal system there. In 1994 he was convicted by a Haitian court in absentia for a massacre of Haitians who supported Aristide and was sentenced to life in prison. In recent years, Constant has been spotted around the area in places such as a realty firm in Cambria Heights and a Long Island Railroad platform in Baldwin, L.I., according to people who participated in a protest against his presence in the area earlier this year. "Toto Constant's comfortable lifestyle in Queens has enraged and offended the Haitian community in this country, as well as human rights activist around the globe," said Sandra Coliver, executive director of the Center for Justice and Accountability, in a statement. "They brought the lawsuit in the name of hundreds of women who cannot speak out because of the violence that reigns today in Haiti." The suit seeks $75,000 or more in damages for the three women who claim members of FRAPH raped two of them in front of their families, while a third was beaten and left for dead. Speaking on behalf of all the plaintiffs in a statement, one said: "We hope the suit will deter at least some of the violence, by sending a message that anyone who commits atrocities will no longer be able to visit or live in the U.S. with impunity." Reach reporter Peter A. Sutters Jr. by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext. 173.

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