FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Mario Joseph, Av., Managing Attorney, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), Mario@ijdh.org, +011 509 2943 2106/07 (in Haiti, speaks French and Kreyol)
Nicole Phillips, Esq., Staff Attorney, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), Nicole@ijdh.org, +001 510 715 2855 (in U.S., speaks English and French)
Human Rights Group Congratulate Victims on their Victory in Historic Murder Trial
After Seven Years of Persistent Struggle, Victims Force Haitian Courts to Award Justice
(PORT-AU-PRINCE, August 3, 2015) — Two human rights groups—the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in Haiti and the U.S.-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) — congratulate courageous citizens of Les Irois Haiti for their landmark victory against former Haitian Mayor, Jean Morose Viliena, and 15 of his accomplices. Thanks to the fearless work of victims David Boniface, Nissage Martyr and Juders Yseme, five of the defendants were convicted in Haitian court on July 21, 2015, of murder, attempted murder and destruction of property in, sentenced to seven years in prison, and ordered to pay 3 million gourdes (US$60,000) in damages. The court also ordered a trial in absentia for the same crimes against Viliena and 10 other defendants who did not appear in court but have ruled the town of Les Irois with violence and terror since 2007.
According to Haitian attorney Mario Joseph of the BAI, which has represented the Petitioners since 2012, “the victims’ victory is also a victory for the justice system in Haiti. Their courage and persistence established a precedent that political violence can be prosecuted despite the perpetrators’ power and connections.” Joseph added, “the historical significance of the courts’ actions and the victims’ active participation cannot be overstated. Actions to hold government officers accountable are highly unusual in Haiti where the justice system is often marred by corruption.”
Viliena, elected mayor in 2006 and appointed interim mayor by President Michel Martelly in 2011, has led his armed partisans in a campaign of terror against the Mayor’s critics. In 2007, Viliena ordered and watched a group of his henchmen hack 19 year-old Eclesiaste Boniface with machetes and shoot him to death in the street. Eclesiate’s assassination was in retaliation against his brother, David Boniface, who had helped a woman defend herself in court against Viliena after he slapped her over a trash disposal dispute. In 2008, Viliena armed and led a group of men to destroy a community station. The group raided the station and beat Nissage Martyr, who housed the radio station, and Juders Yseme, a high school student who witnessed the attack. Viliena’s men then shot Martyr and Yseme as they fled, leaving them permanently disabled.
“The improbably victory comes as a result of the fearless work of Petitioners Boniface, Martyr and Yseme who, since 2008, have filed multiple complaints against Viliena and his accomplices calling for justice in Haitian court. At every step, their efforts have been thwarted by witness tampering, political interference and ongoing threats to their personal safety. But they never gave up. They are true heroes,” said Nicole Phillips, IJDH Staff Attorney.
Petitioners have received multiple threats since the trial was announced earlier this year. Thanks to the work of the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale, BAI and IJDH, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a directive on July 29, 2015, calling on the Haitian Government to adopt all measures necessary to protect their safety.
Attorney Joseph calls on the court, with the assistance of the court, Haitian National Police and Ministry of Justice, “to immediately serve and arrest Viliena and the other defendants, who are still at large, so that they can be tried for murder, attempted murder and destruction of property”. Joseph also calls on “the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs to adopt all measures necessary to protect the safety of Petitioners per the Inter-American Commission’s decision.”
But for now, Boniface rejoices in the ruling, “It is the first time that I have seen something like this happen. From the beginning to the end, we worked hard and we won.”
For more information about BAI and IJDH’s work, please visit: ijdh.org