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By Nate Raymond

Former Haitian mayor owes $15.5 million over human rights abuses, US jury finds

FILE PHOTO: Nissandere Martyr, Juders Yseme, and David Boniface, plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Jean Morose Viliena, the former mayor of the rural town Haitian town of Les Irois who is being tried over allegations he was involved in murdering, torturing and burning the homes of his political opponents, pose for a photograph outside the federal courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., March 13, 2023. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

A U.S. jury on Tuesday concluded that a former Haitian mayor should pay $15.5 million over allegations he led a brutal campaign against his political opponents that involved murdering and torturing them.

A federal jury in Boston found Jean Morose Viliena liable on claims arising out of a long-running lawsuit by three Haitian citizens who accused him of persecuting them or their relatives during his time as mayor of the rural town of Les Irois.

The civil case shed a light on widespread violence that has plagued Haiti, where armed gangs have been expanding their territory, kidnappings have become frequent and gunbattles between police and crime groups are routine.

The $15.5 million awarded to David Boniface, Juders Yseme, and Nissage Martyr includes $11 million in punitive damages, according to their lawyers at the human rights group the Center for Justice and Accountability.

"Today's verdict brings justice to me, my family, and the other families of those who have been victims of Viliena's campaign of terror," Boniface said in a statement.

Viliena, now a truck driver living in Massachusetts, denied wrongdoing, arguing he took no personal action against the plaintiffs. His lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit was filed in 2017 under the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows for U.S. lawsuits against foreign officials accused of extrajudicial killings or torture when avenues for redress in their home countries are exhausted.

The plaintiffs said Viliena in 2007 led a group of armed men to Boniface's home who beat and fatally shot his brother, and later mobilized a group in 2008 that beat and shot Martyr and Yseme at a community radio station.

Martyr lost a leg and Yseme was blinded in one eye. Martyr died in 2017 after suing. His son now serves as a plaintiff in his place.

The lawsuit also claimed Viliena in 2009 coordinated a mass arson of dozens of homes occupied by the plaintiffs and people associated with the political opposition in Les Irois, which is home to about 22,000 people.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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