A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] on Friday denied a motion to dismiss a federal suit against former Somali prime minister and defense minister Mohamed Ali Samantar [JURIST news archive]. Lawyers for Samantar argued that the case should be dismissed [AP report] because the statute of limitations had expired and because the courts should not interfere in political matters. In addition to allowing the case to move forward, the ruling also means that Samantar can be questioned under oath [BBC report] regarding allegations that he spearheaded a campaign of ethnic repression against the northern Somali Isaaq clan during his tenure in office. Representatives for the plaintiffs indicated that they were pleased with the ruling, which will force Samantar to face his accusers. Samantar continues to deny any wrongdoing and was not present at Friday's hearing.
In February, a federal judge rules that Samantar was not entitled to legal immunity from civil lawsuits [JURIST report]. This ruling came after the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] handed down a unanimous decision [JURIST report] in June 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. The suit has been ongoing since 2004 when the plaintiffs filed a complaint 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 plaintiffs 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.