A US lawsuit accuses the former mayor of a rural Haitian town of murder, attempted murder and torture.
A federal jury in the United States has ordered a former Haitian mayor to pay more than $15.5 million in response to a lawsuit alleging he led a campaign of political persecution.
Tuesday’s decision from a US district court in Boston found Jean Morose Viliena liable on a range of charges, including involvement in murder, attempted murder and torture of political rivals.
The lawsuit was brought by three men who said they and their families were targeted when Viliena was mayor of the rural town of Les Irois more than a decade ago.
Although the jury’s decision was made in a civil case and has no criminal implications, prosecutors hailed the order as a “victory”.
“Today’s verdict brings justice for me, my family and the other families of those who fell victim to Viliena’s terror campaign,” one of the prosecutors, David Boniface, said in a statement Tuesday.
Boniface, along with Juders Yseme and Nissage Martyr, filed suit in 2017 under the Torture Victim Protection Act, a 1991 U.S. law that allows civil lawsuits to be brought against foreign officials accused of misconduct, if all legal avenues are available to them. homeland are exhausted.
📢Victory! Today, a Boston jury found the former mayor of Les Irois, #HaitiJean Morose Viliena responsible for the #Extrajudicial killing of Eclesiaste Boniface, and #torture and tried #Extrajudicial killing from Nissage Martyr and Juders Ysemé. #Justice4LesIrois pic.twitter.com/WG8lGoG6NI
— CJA (@CJA_News) March 21, 2023
The lawsuit alleged that in 2007, Viliena led gunmen to Boniface’s home, where they beat and fatally shot his brother.
The then mayor later mobilized a group that beat and shot Martyr and Yseme at a community radio station in 2008, according to the complaint. It added that Martyr lost a leg and Yseme was blind in one eye.
The lawsuit also said that in 2009, Viliena coordinated the arson attack of dozens of houses occupied by the plaintiffs and people associated with the political opposition in Les Irois, which has a population of about 22,000.
The three men had previously tried to hold Viliena accountable in a Haitian court, but he was eventually released and never tried.
The trial is set as Haiti faces mounting crises, including repeated natural disasters, a cholera outbreak and the increased influence of powerful gangs, especially in the wake of the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
It has also highlighted the limits of Haiti’s justice system after years of unrest.
A plaintiff in the case, Martyr, died after filing the US lawsuit. His son Nissandere Martyr replaced him as plaintiff.
Viliena – who has since moved to the US and currently lives in Malden, Massachusetts, where he works as a truck driver – has denied being directly responsible for the violence.
The jury found him not liable on Tuesday for burning down the plaintiffs’ homes.
Ela Matthews, a lawyer from the Center for Justice and Accountability, which represented prosecutors, said Tuesday’s verdict “represents a 15-year battle for prosecutors and the people of Les Irois for justice.”