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U.S. District Court awards $15.5M in damages against Malden resident, a former Haitian Mayor, for attacks on human rights defenders

Haitian Mayor Human Rights Lawsuit
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  Part of the following was provided by the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) as well as other news reports.

  A U.S. District Court civil case jury on March 20 concluded that a former Haitian mayor – now a Malden resident – should pay $15.5 million in damages over allegations he led a brutal campaign against his political opponents. A federal jury in Boston found Jean Morose Viliena liable on claims arising out of a long-running lawsuit, begun in 2017, by three Haitian citizens who accused him of persecuting them or their relatives during his time as mayor of the rural town of Les Irois. The civil case shed a light on widespread violence that has plagued Haiti, where armed gangs have been expanding their territory; kidnappings have become frequent; and gun battles between police and crime groups are routine.

  The $15.5 million awarded to David Boniface, Juders Yseme and Nissage Martyr includes $11 million in punitive damages, according to their lawyers at the human rights group the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA). “Today’s verdict brings justice to me, my family, and the other families of those who have been victims of Viliena’s campaign of terror,” Boniface said in a statement.

  Viliena, now a truck driver living in Malden, denied wrongdoing, arguing he took no personal action against the plaintiffs. His lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

  The lawsuit was filed in 2017 under the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows for U.S. lawsuits against foreign officials accused of extrajudicial killings or torture when avenues for redress in their home countries are exhausted. The lawsuit also claimed Viliena in 2009 coordinated a mass arson of dozens of homes occupied by the plaintiffs and people associated with the political opposition in Les Irois, which has a population of 22,000.

  The jury awarded $15.5 million in damages, including $11 million in punitive damages, to the plaintiffs – David Boniface, Juders Ysemé and Nissandère Martyr – who are represented by CJA, Morrison & Foerster LLP and Dentons US LLP, in collaboration with the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux.

  “I have dedicated over fifteen years to holding Mayor Viliena accountable for ordering the murder of my brother,” said plaintiff David Boniface, who is Eclesiaste Boniface’s brother. “Today’s verdict brings justice to me, my family, and the other families of those who have been victims of Viliena’s campaign of terror. I believe justice uplifts a nation, and that’s why I have continued to pursue this case for all this time.”

  Over the course of the six-day trial, the jury heard evidence about how Viliena targeted those who opposed his strong-arm rule in Les Irois. Victims, family members, eyewitnesses and experts testified to the violence and intimidation that the plaintiffs and other witnesses endured in the years following these events, and the failure of the Haitian legal system to hold Viliena accountable.

  “Viliena has committed gross human rights violations,” said CJA Senior Staff Attorney Daniel McLaughlin. “Despite a clear record of criminal acts, the government of Haiti allowed him to remain in power. Viliena should be prohibited from holding public office in the future.”

  The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) is a San Francisco–based international human rights organization dedicated to working with communities impacted by torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights abuses to seek truth, justice and redress using innovative litigation and transitional justice strategies. CJA has successfully brought cases against defendants, including the commander in charge of the Lutheran Church Massacre in Liberia, the military officer responsible for the assassination of Chilean activist and singer Victor Jara, and Syria’s Assad regime for its targeted killing of war correspondent Marie Colvin.

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