Frequently Asked Questions

Boniface v. Viliena





Why was a complaint filed?

The victims and families of victims of political violence in the Haitian seaside town of Les Irois have been seeking justice for over fifteen years. The political violence that took place in the late 2000’s in Les Irois mirrored the political violence and longstanding impunity for political leaders leading back to the Duvalier dictatorship. Impunity in Haiti for political violence has persisted until today and the person allegedly responsible—the former mayor of Les Irois, Jean Morose Viliena—fled to the United States. CJA and its partners filed this case to hold Viliena accountable and hopefully prevent him from being able to hold political office in the future.

Where was the complaint filed?

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, where trial will take place starting on March 13, 2023.

Who are the plaintiffs?

  • David Boniface is the brother of Eclesiaste Boniface, who was killed in Les Irois on July 27, 2007, after David, a local human rights defender, stood up to Mayor Viliena.
  • Nissandère Martyr is the son of Nissage Martyr, one of the original plaintiffs in this case. Les Irois’s first radio station was located in Nissage’s home. The radio station was ransacked in April 2008 and during the attack Nissage was shot and permanently injured. Nissandère stands in the place of his father, who died suddenly the day after Viliena was served with the complaint.
  • Juders Ysemé was in high school at the time of the radio station attack. He was friends with Nissage and enjoyed spending time at the station before and after class. He was also shot and injured during the attack on the radio station.
  • All plaintiffs’ homes were burned during a mass arson in Les Irois in 2009. In the years following the attacks, the plaintiffs and their families have been pushing for justice for the campaign of violence in their community.

Who is the defendant?

In December 2006, Jean Morose Viliena was elected Mayor of Les Irois, Haiti, a rural, coastal town in the Grand Anse region of Haiti, and served as Mayor while the incidents alleged in the complaint took place. Viliena was arrested in September 2008 in Haiti, but he was provisionally released and fled to the United States, where he’s lived freely until now.

Do the U.S. federal courts have jurisdiction over the defendant?

Yes, Viliena is a lawful permanent resident of the United States residing in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts—which is where the lawsuit was filed.

What are the issues raised in the complaint?

The complaint alleges that Viliena was involved in a campaign of political violence in Les Irois, Haiti, which included the killing of Eclesiaste Boniface, the attempted killing and torture of Juders Ysemé and Nissage Martyr, and the mass arson of 36 homes.

What laws are referenced/what is the legal framework for the complaint?

The case brings civil claims under the Torture Victims Protection Act and Haitian law.

Where in the legal process is the case?

This case will be going to trial on March 13, 2023, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

What proceedings, if any, have been brought in Haiti?

  • In 2008, Haitian authorities began an investigation into the killing of Eclesiaste Boniface, shooting of Juders Ysemé and Nissage Martyr, and raiding of the radio station. Viliena was arrested in September 2008, but provisionally released in December 2008, and then he fled to the United States. He was declared a “fugitive” by Haitian courts. While some individuals were indicted and found guilty of these crimes in Haiti in 2015 because Viliena was in the United States he was not tried. As for the arson, no proceedings have been initiated against Viliena in Haiti.
  • Our clients tried to engage in these proceedings as civil parties, a mechanism under Haitian law that permits claims for compensation to be tacked onto criminal cases. Despite their persistent efforts, seeking remedies in Haiti was futile given the politicization and corruption of the Haitian judicial system, as well as the retributive violence faced by our clients and the witnesses for seeking justice – facts acknowledged by the US District Court.

Why is this a civil suit and not a criminal prosecution?

Though the U.S. government may have jurisdiction over the crimes committed by Viliena, no criminal prosecutions have been initiated at this point. This civil suit permits our clients to face Viliena in court, set the record straight as to his culpability for the harm they have suffered, and obtain damages. The civil suit in no way precludes any future criminal proceeding.

Who is CJA?

The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) is a San Francisco-based human rights legal organization dedicated to deterring torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious human rights abuses around the world through innovative litigation and transitional justice strategies. CJA partners with impacted communities in pursuit of truth, justice, and redress, and has successfully brought cases against defendants such as 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.