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Federal appeals court affirms decision in Somalia torture case

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] affirmed [opinion, PDF] the decision of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website], holding Monday that a Somali torture claim lacked a "sufficient nexus" with the US to allow jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Statute [text, PDF]. In 1987, during political turmoil, Farhan Warfaa was taken from his home in Somalia, beaten, and tortured for approximately three months. Yusuf Ali was a colonel in the Somali National Army and had questioned Warfaa several times during his detainment for political opposition prior to shooting him and ordering him to be left for dead. Ali had been living in Virginia for eight years before Warfaa, still living in Somalia, filed the initial claim in 2004. Even though Ali is now a US resident, the court held that Warfaa had filed no claim that "touches and concerns" the US, because all relevant events occurred in Somalia. The opinion found Ali's ultimate residence as merely incidental. Another claim, under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) [text, PDF], was allowed to proceed. Ali is calling for immunity from his actions as a foreign official, which TVPA would deny.

In 2014 the US Supreme Court refused [JURIST report] to hear a similar immunity plea from former Somali Prime Minister, Mohamed Ali Samantar, also under the TVPA. In that case, the Fourth Circuit upheld an order from the same district court mandating that the former PM pay $21 million to Somali torture victims. Like Ali, Samantar claimed that as a foreign official, he had common-law immunity for acts performed on behalf of a foreign state despite allegations that those acts violated international law. The ruling meant that Samantar could be held liable for human rights abuses related to the killing and torture of members of the Isaaq clan in Somalia throughout the 1980s under former dictator Siad Barre, the same political conflict Warfaa was abducted under.

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