In 2017, 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. As the first effort to hold Viliena—a U.S. resident – accountable in a U.S. court, the lawsuit seeks to expose the ongoing problem of impunity for human rights violators in Haiti.
In 2010, Haitian authorities indicted Mayor Viliena for his role in the 2007 murder of CJA client David Boniface’s brother, Eclesiaste Boniface, and the 2008 shootings of CJA clients Nissage Martyr and Juders Yseme during a raid on a community radio station. Viliena was arrested in Haiti for these crimes but released following political pressure, whereupon Viliena fled to the United States. Despite the murder indictment, Viliena was reappointed as interim Mayor in August 2012 by Haitian President Michel Martelly.
On March 23, 2017 CJA and pro bono co-counsel, Dentons US LLP, filed suit against Viliena in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. On March 24, 2017 —the day after Viliena was served with CJA’s and Denton’s complaint one of our clients, Nissage Martyr, died suddenly under suspicious circumstances. CJA, Dentons, and our local Haitian partner, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, are now supporting his son Nissandère Martyr’s legal petition to open a criminal investigation in Haiti. Nissandère is now also a Plaintiff in our U.S. case, following his father’s death.
On August 31, 2018, the district court denied Viliena’s motion to dismiss our clients’ claims under the Torture Victim Protection Act and Haitian law – allowing our claims of extrajudicial killing, attempted extrajudicial killing, torture, and arson to go forward. The judge dismissed our clients’ claims under the Alien Tort Statute on jurisdictional grounds, finding that the claims did not sufficiently “touch and concern” the United States to meet the Kiobel test set out by the U.S. Supreme Court. On November 2, 2018, Viliena filed a motion for reconsideration and certification of interlocutory appeal, asking the district court to either overturn its ruling or allow him to appeal the ruling immediately. This type of immediate “interlocutory” appeal is rare; generally, appeals on legal issues are heard after the conclusion of the case at the district court. On September 30, 2019, the district court denied Viliena’s motion for reconsideration but granted his request for certification of an interlocutory appeal.
Viliena filed a Petition to the First Circuit Court of Appeals on October 10, 2019, which we opposed on October 21, 2019. On February 2, 2020 the First Circuit Court of Appeals denied his motion to appeal. The Court of Appeals found that the Viliena had not demonstrated that immediate appeal is necessary. The case will now proceed in the District Court of Massachusetts towards trial.
Meanwhile, threats against our clients unfortunately continue. In August 2019, the federal court granted CJA’s request for an emergency protective order barring Viliena from having any contact with our clients, their families, or potential witnesses in our case against him. The case is now set for trial beginning on March 13, 2023 in the Eastern District of Massachusetts.