U.S. top court refuses to shield former Somali official from suit

By Lawrence Hurley

Monday, March 9, 2015

WASHINGTON  (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to block a lawsuit filed by a group of Somalis against their country’s former prime minister seeking to hold him responsible for torture and human rights abuses in Somalia.

The justices declined to review a ruling by a U.S. appeals court that allowed a lawsuit to proceed against Mohamed Ali Samantar, who served as Somalia’s defense minister in the 1980s and then as prime minister from 1987 to 1990. Samantar is attempting to claim immunity from the lawsuit.

When the case first came to the court in 2010, the justices ruled that Samantar could not claim immunity via the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act but might be able to claim immunity under common law.

Lower courts subsequently ruled that Samantar, who now lives in Virginia, cannot claim immunity. Samantar asked the justices to review that conclusion.

The lawsuit, filed by a small group of Somalis, seeks damages for alleged torture and other abuses by Somali soldiers or other government officials under Samantar’s general command.

The U.S. State Department has said Samantar cannot claim immunity. Since the appeals court ruling in November 2012 that allowed the case to proceed, the U.S. government has officially recognized the Somali government for the first time since 1991.

The Obama administration urged the court not to hear the case.

The plaintiffs claim that although Samantar did not personally commit the atrocities, he is still liable for acts committed by officials under his command.

The case is Samantar v. Yousuf, U.S. Supreme Court, 13-1361 (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

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