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Federal judge denies immunity to former Somalia PM

A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] ruled Tuesday that former Somali prime minister and defense minister Mohamed Ali Samantar is not entitled to legal immunity from civil lawsuits. Samantar, who has lived in the greater Washington, DC, area for more than 15 years, was sued in 2004 by two Somali men who alleged he spearheaded a campaign of ethnic repression against the northern Somali Isaaq clan during his tenure in office. Last June, the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] unanimously ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in Samantar v. Yousef [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA) [28 USC §§ 1330, 1602 et seq. text] does not provide foreign officials immunity from civil lawsuits In affirming the decision [opinion, PDF] of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website], the Supreme Court held that the law was intended only to codify existing international and common law regarding suits against foreign states, not individual members of foreign governments. The court remanded the case back to the Eastern District of Virginia, instructing the lower court to resolve questions of possible immunity under common law and other defenses.

Respondents are seeking damages from Samantar under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 [28 USC § 1350 text]. Samantar was minister of defense and later prime minister of Somalia from 1980 to 1990. Respondents claim that Samantar authorized torture and the extrajudicial killing of them and members of their family. The Isaaq clan, of which the respondents are members, was subjected to systematic persecution during Samantar's time in office before the collapse of the Somali government in 1991 [DOS backgrounder]. Samantar fled Somalia before the collapse of the government and now resides in Virginia.

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