Orlando Sentinel
March 2, 2004

Deported war criminal freed in Haiti

By Jim Stratton
Sentinel Staff Writer

A week ago, Jean-Claude Duperval sat in Haiti's national penitentiary while panicky family members in Orlando chased down rumors that he had been killed by supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Now, Duperval is a free man.

The convicted war criminal and former Haitian general was among the thousands of convicts released Sunday from the country's largest prison when rebels drove into Port-au-Prince.

Duperval's family members here are ecstatic. Just a month ago, they watched as the United States shipped Duperval back to Haiti, where he had been convicted in 2000 for his role in a 1994 politically motivated massacre.

On Sunday, Duperval spoke to family members in Central Florida via cell phone. He was out of prison and, for the time being, safe. He did not say where he was staying.

"He said, tell everyone: 'Thank you for your prayers,' " said Duperval's brother-in-law Eli Pierre. "Everybody is happy."

Not everyone.

Human-rights advocates say the release of Duperval and others endangers witnesses and lawyers who helped prosecute them. Some of those witnesses, sources said, have already gone into hiding.

"There's a real threat to their lives," a human-rights worker based in Port-au-Prince said Monday. The former prisoners "are going to take revenge."

In 2000, Duperval and more than 30 other members of the military were convicted in absentia for their role in the 1994 massacre in the village of Raboteau. In that attack, gunmen killed more than two dozen men, women and children thought to be supporters of Aristide.

Though Duperval was not accused of killing anyone or ordering the attack, prosecutors said as the military's second-in-command he encouraged such violence and failed to punish the perpetrators.

Duperval's family claims he had nothing to do with Raboteau and that his conviction was politically motivated. International observers, however, say the Raboteau trial set a new standard for fairness in Haiti.

With conditions on the island in flux, it was unclear Monday what Duperval and the other released prisoners would do.

His family said Duperval's supporters want to see whether he's willing to help re-establish the Haitian military or serve in a provisional government.

"We don't know what the American government would say about that," Pierre said.

Amnesty International urged international officials to prevent that, saying, "under no circumstances" should anyone "implicated in serious human-rights abuses" be given a position of authority.

Duperval was a top-ranking general when the military overthrew Aristide in early 1994.

When the United States helped reinstall Aristide later that year, Duperval's superiors were sent into exile while he was asked to help oversee the transition. In return, he and his daughter were allowed to come to the United States in 1995.

He settled in Orlo Vista, working for several years as a boat pilot at Walt Disney World.

In January -- more than three years after his war-crimes conviction -- U.S. officials arrested Duperval and sent him back to Haiti.

He arrived just as the country's rebellion reached the boiling point.

Jim Stratton can be reached at jstratton@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5379.

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