March 23, 2017 / 5:43 PM / 5 months ago

Former Haitian mayor sued in Boston over human rights abuses

BOSTON (Reuters) - Three Haitian nationals sued the former mayor of their rural village on Thursday, accusing him in Boston federal court of murdering, torturing and burning the homes of his political opponents.

Lawyers for the three plaintiffs said the ex-mayor, Jean Morose Viliena, now works a school bus driver and lives in Malden, Massachusetts, where he fled to after Haitian courts began investigating his conduct while in office.

The lawyers, who are with the Center for Justice and Accountability, said they filed a civil lawsuit seeking unspecified monetary damages in Boston because Viliena had not been convicted or prosecuted in his native Haiti.

"He fled from Haitian justice, he fled from the courts, he fled from years of our clients' efforts to have him prosecuted in Haiti, and he found safety in the Boston suburbs," said Scott Gilmore, a lawyer with the center. "U.S. territory should not be used as a safe haven for people who commit these sorts of crimes."

The lawsuit said Viliena, backed by an armed militia, committed human rights abuses by routinely using violence against perceived political opponents or people who complained about how he governed Les Irois, a town on Haiti's far western coast and home to about 22,300 people.

According to the lawsuit, Viliena led a gang that killed Eclesiaste Boniface, 23, in July 2007 after his brother, plaintiff David Boniface, intervened in a dispute between the official and a neighbor over trash disposal.

"Mayor Viliena personally supervised as his associates dragged Eclesiaste into a crowd of about 30 bystanders," the lawsuit said. "Viliena's associates lunged at Eclesiaste with a machete. One of Viliena's associates fired his gun, killing Eclesiaste."

Viliena could not be reached for comment.

In 2008, the lawsuit said, Viliena led a gang that attacked a radio station in the village and brutally beat two other plaintiffs, Nissage Martyr and Juders Yseme.

The lawsuit also said Viliena's gang burned the homes of three dozen political opponents.

The Center for Justice and Accountability has won civil judgments in U.S. courts against two former Haitian military officials accused of overseeing violence against civilians and then fleeing the country.

One of the men had gone on to win $3.2 million in a Florida lottery, which a judge ordered him to turn over to his victims.

Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn

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