BREAKING: CJA Files Lawsuit against Former Haitian Mayor


Persecuted Media Activists & Human Rights Defenders File Suit in Federal Court

Boston, Massachusetts, March 21, 2017 – Today, the Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA) and pro bono co-counsel Dentons US LLP filed suit in federal court on behalf of three Haitian citizens who were violently persecuted for challenging corruption and brutality by their government.  The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts against Jean Morose Viliena, the former mayor of Les Irois, Haiti.  The lawsuit asserts claims for torture, extrajudicial killing, attempted extrajudicial killing, and arson.  

The complaint alleges that as Mayor, Viliena led an armed militia in a campaign of terror against media activists and human rights defenders.  In July 2007, plaintiff David Boniface, a human rights activist, denounced Viliena in court for assaulting a neighbor.  Later that night, Viliena led his fighters in a reprisal attack that killed Boniface’s younger brother, Eclesiaste.

The following year, in April 2008, Mayor Viliena announced on-air that he was shutting down a community radio station hosted in the home of plaintiff Nissage Martyr. Viliena and his fighters invaded Martyr’s home, beating Martyr and Juders Yseme and shooting them when they tried to escape. Yseme was blinded in one eye, while Martyr’s wounds led to the amputation of one leg.

Mayor Viliena continued to lead a militia in Haiti even after he moved to Malden, Massachusetts in early 2009. Viliena’s campaign to silence dissent culminated in an arson rampage when he visited Les Irois in October 2009. In a single night, Viliena’s supporters torched 36 homes of perceived political opponents.  

“Mayor Viliena cost me my leg, my home, and my livelihood––all for the supposed crime of running a radio station,” said plaintiff Nissage Martyr.  “His men still threaten me and say they’ll take my other leg.  But they can’t take away my voice and my rights.”

Since 2007, the victims have pursued criminal charges against Viliena in the courts of Haiti. After Haitian authorities opened a murder investigation in 2009, he fled to the Boston surburbs, where he obtained a license as a school bus driver. In January 2010, Viliena and his co-conspirators were indicted in Haiti for murder, battery, and property destruction.  But all attempts to bring Viliena to trial have been blocked by witness tampering, political interference, and his flight from justice.

Despite the murder indictment, Viliena was reappointed as mayor on August 27, 2012 by former Haitian President Michel Martelly.  In 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on Haiti to ensure justice and to protect witnesses in the case against Viliena. But to this day, Viliena continues to enjoy impunity, traveling freely to Haiti from his base in Massachusetts.

Unable to find justice in Haiti, Plaintiffs David Boniface, Nissage Martyr, and Juders Yseme have turned to the courts of the United States. “Viliena should not be able to live the American dream in Boston, while making our lives in Haiti a nightmare,” said plaintiff Juders Yseme.

Viliena’s continued impunity punctuates the breakdown of the rule of law and freedom of the press in Haiti. “Mayor Viliena is getting away with murder,” said plaintiff David Boniface.  “We’ve taken our case to the Haitian courts.  But rather than put Viliena behind bars, the Haitian government put him back in power.”

This is not the first time that the Haitian government has come under international criticism for tolerating impunity for human rights abusers.  In 2011, Haiti’s former dictator, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier returned after decades in exile.  Despite a Haitian court order that Baby Doc could be prosecuted for crimes against humanity, he passed away in 2015 without ever standing trial.  None of Baby Doc’s officials who ran torture centers in the 70s and 80s have been tried for their crimes in Haiti.

“Mayor Viliena ran Les Irois as his private fiefdom, silencing dissent through murder and intimidation,” said Scott Gilmore, CJA Staff Attorney. “Impunity is a national tragedy for Haiti, a force as disruptive as a hurricane. The Haitian government cannot rebuild trust unless lawless officials like Viliena or Duvalier’s henchmen are held to account. This case marks an important step in that process.”


About the Center for Justice and Accountability

CJA is a San Francisco-based human rights organization dedicated to deterring torture and other severe human rights abuses around the world and advancing the rights of survivors to seek truth, justice and redress. CJA uses litigation to hold perpetrators accountable for human rights abuses, develop human rights law, and advance the rule of law in countries transitioning from periods of abuse.

About Dentons US LLP

Dentons is a global firm driven to provide the competitive edge in an increasingly complex and interconnected marketplace. Formed by the March 2013 combination of three highly regarded law firms, each of which built its outstanding reputation and valued clientele by responding to the local, regional and national needs of a broad spectrum of clients of all sizes – individuals; entrepreneurs; small businesses and start-ups; local, regional and national governments and government agencies; and mid-sized and larger private and public corporations, including international and global entities.

Media Contact  Lisa Cohen    +1 (310) 395-2544