Between 2007 and 2009, Jean Morose Viliena—the mayor of Les Irois, a town in southwestern Haiti—led an armed group of supporters in a campaign of terror against media activists and human rights defenders.
After Haitian investigators opened a murder inquest against Viliena in 2008, he fled to the United States and took up residence in Malden, Massachusetts. In January 2010, a Haitian court indicted Viliena for murder, battery, and property destruction. Despite the murder indictment, Haitian President Michel Martelly reappointed Viliena as interim Mayor of Les Irois in August 2012. Since then, Viliena has been able to travel freely between Haiti and his home in the quiet suburbs of Boston.
In 2017, on behalf of our three Haitian clients who were victims of Viliena’s crimes, CJA and pro bono co-counsel, Dentons US LLP brought claims against Viliena in the U.S. for extrajudicial killing, attempted extrajudicial killing, torture, and persecution as a crime against humanity under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) and the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), as well as arson under Haitian law. However, in a shocking turn of events, one of our clients, Nissage Martyr, died suddenly on March 24, 2017—the day after Viliena was served with the complaint. After appearing to be in normal health, Mr. Martyr grew violently ill at a neighborhood party.
The attacks on CJA’s clients in Les Irois occurred against a backdrop of political turmoil in Haiti. In February 2004, former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in a violent coup. In the decade since the coup, Haiti has been plunged into fits of violence between competing political factions and their affiliated militias, killing thousands. These militias have routinely kidnapped, tortured, and killed opponents, journalists, and human rights defenders, while meting out vigilante justice, collecting bribes, and ensuring loyalty to their political patrons.
In 2004, the U.N. Security Council deployed MINUSTAH – the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti – to provide a semblance of security in the face of rampant corruption and abuse in Haiti’s justice system. Despite the presence of MINUSTAH and the slow restoration of democratic elections in 2006 and 2011, political violence – and blanket impunity – continue to this day. Haiti’s political turmoil and weak rule of law have been compounded by a series of natural disasters, including the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Les Irois is a small town (pop. 22,306) on the isolated southwestern coast of Haiti. But its local politics have taken the same violent path as the rest of the nation.
Jean Morose Viliena was elected Mayor of Les Irois in 2006 as the candidate of the MODEREH party, an offshoot of former President Aristide’s Lavalas party. Viliena had the backing of KOREGA – the Committee for Resistance in Grande-Anse – a powerful political machine that dominates local politics throughout the Grand-Anse Department (the region covering the southwestern coast of Haiti, including Les Irois). KOREGA uses organized violence and political muscle to influence elections, interfere with investigations and prosecutions, silence critics, and suppress political opposition in cities and towns across Grand-Anse. In return for their loyalty, KOREGA provides its members with jobs and control of local institutions, such as hospitals and government posts.
Once Viliena became Mayor of Les Irois, he became the head of the local branch of KOREGA and led an armed militia of KOREGA supporters in a series of attacks designed to silence critics and neutralize KOREGA’s main political rival in the region–the Struggling People’s Party.
Our clients, David Boniface, Nissage Martyr, and Juders Ysemé are survivors of Viliena’s assault on dissent in Les Irois. In July 2007, David Boniface, a human rights activist, denounced Viliena in court for assaulting a neighbor. Later that night, Viliena and his militia brutally murdered Boniface’s younger brother, Eclesiaste, in reprisal.
The following year, in April 2008, Mayor Viliena announced on-air that he was shutting down Les Irois’s first-ever community radio station, which was hosted in the home of Nissage Martyr. Viliena and his armed supporters invaded Martyr’s home, surrounded and beat Martyr and shot him and Juders Yseme, a young associate of the radio station. Their wounds were so severe that Yseme was blinded in one eye, and Martyr’s leg had to be amputated.
Mayor Viliena’s campaign of terror culminated in a rampage of arson in October 2009. In a single night, under the specific orders of Viliena, his supporters set fire to 36 homes of perceived political opponents.
Since 2007, Boniface and the other victims have filed multiple criminal and civil charges against Mayor Viliena in the courts of Haiti. At every step, their efforts have been thwarted by witness tampering, intimidation, and political interference by supporters of KOREGA and Mayor Viliena.
As a complement to our ongoing civil litigation, CJA and our long-standing partner Bureau Des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) sought precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on behalf of our clients, hoping that it would protect them against further violence and attack. On July 28, 2015, the IACHR granted the request and ordered Haiti to protect our clients, as well as other witnesses and human rights defenders from continuing threats against them. To date, however, the government of Haiti has failed to enforce these precautionary measures, and our clients remain under threat and in hiding.