Somalis Can Sue Ex-Prime Minister in US

Posted on 08/07/2010

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Richard C. Paddock

( June 1 )–Somalis seeking justice in the U.S. for human rights abuses in their homeland praised a U.S. Supreme Court decision today allowing a lawsuit against Somalia’s former prime minister to go forward.

“I am so happy,” said Aziz Mohamed Deria, a plaintiff in the suit whose father and brother were killed by Somali government forces in 1988. “I had faith in the Constitution and the legal system, and I understand that this country represents the fairness of humanity.”

Deria is one of five Somalis in the U.S. and Somalia who filed suit in 2004 against former Defense Minister and Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Samantar after discovering that he was living in Virginia. They allege that Samantar was responsible for torture, rape, imprisonment and murder that they and their relatives suffered at the hands of the Somali military.

Samantar’s attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court, contending that he was immune from a civil suit because he was acting in his official capacity. The high court unanimously rejected that argument, ruling that Congress did not intend to exempt officials from personal liability for alleged human rights abuses.

“There is nothing to suggest we should read ‘foreign state’ … to include an official acting on behalf of the foreign state, and much to indicate that this meaning was not what Congress enacted,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in an opinion for the court.

The case will now go back to federal District Court in Virginia for trial.

Human rights advocates said the high court ruling means that officials who commit human rights abuses in their own countries will have a tougher time finding a “safe haven” in the U.S.

“We are very thrilled with the court’s decision today,” said Pamela Merchant, executive director of the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability, which helped bring the case against Samantar. “In the United States, our government officials are not above the law — and the court’s unanimous ruling today confirms that foreign government officials, who come and avail themselves of the benefits and privileges of living in the U.S., are not above the law either.”

During the 1980s, Samantar was a top official in the regime of the brutal military dictator Siad Barre, who used execution, rape, torture and imprisonment without trial to control the population. Thousands of civilians were slaughtered when military forces attacked the city of Hargeisa, the largest city in the secessionist region of Somaliland.

Samantar served in the regime as defense minister and first vice president from 1980 to 1986 and then as prime minister until 1990. He fled the country after the regime’s collapse in 1991 and arrived in the U.S. in 1997.

Samantar’s appeal to the high court received support from an unusual collection of allies, including the government of Saudi Arabia and pro-Israel groups that feared a ruling against Samantar could expose officials from their countries to similar lawsuits.

The other plaintiffs are:

  • Bashe Yousuf, who as a young businessman was tortured and held in solitary confinement for six years.
  • An unnamed woman who was raped at least 15 times and kept in solitary confinement for three years.
  • An unnamed man who was shot by a firing squad but survived by hiding among the bodies of those who were killed.
  • Another unnamed man whose two brothers were summarily executed by soldiers.

Deria, who now lives in Oregon, came to the U.S. as a student in 1983 at the age of 19. His father, a successful businessman, and his brother were killed during the attack on Hargeisa

.”The only reason [his father] was captured and killed was he belonged to a certain tribe in that region of Somalia,” he said. “We lost everything we had, emotionally and physically.”

Deria said the Somali community in the U.S. is watching the Samantar case closely, in part because a number of other former top military officials who served in the regime also have taken up residence here.

“This is not supposed to be a country that harbors war criminals,” Deria said. “We have a lot of evidence against Mr. Samantar. He has done a lot of harm, and we are ready to meet him in court.” “There is nothing to suggest we should read ‘foreign state’ … to include an official acting on behalf of the foreign state, and much to indicate that this meaning was not what Congress enacted,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in an opinion for the court.

The case will now go back to federal District Court in Virginia for trial.

Human rights advocates said the high court ruling means that officials who commit human rights abuses in their own countries will have a tougher time finding a “safe haven” in the U.S.

“We are very thrilled with the court’s decision today,” said Pamela Merchant, executive director of the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability, which helped bring the case against Samantar. “In the United States, our government officials are not above the law — and the court’s unanimous ruling today confirms that foreign government officials, who come and avail themselves of the benefits and privileges of living in the U.S., are not above the law either.”

During the 1980s, Samantar was a top official in the regime of the brutal military dictator Siad Barre, who used execution, rape, torture and imprisonment without trial to control the population. Thousands of civilians were slaughtered when military forces attacked the city of Hargeisa, the largest city in the secessionist region of Somaliland.

Samantar served in the regime as defense minister and first vice president from 1980 to 1986 and then as prime minister until 1990. He fled the country after the regime’s collapse in 1991 and arrived in the U.S. in 1997.

Samantar’s appeal to the high court received support from an unusual collection of allies, including the government of Saudi Arabia and pro-Israel groups that feared a ruling against Samantar could expose officials from their countries to similar lawsuits.

The other plaintiffs are:

  • Bashe Yousuf, who as a young businessman was tortured and held in solitary confinement for six years.
  • An unnamed woman who was raped at least 15 times and kept in solitary confinement for three years.
  • An unnamed man who was shot by a firing squad but survived by hiding among the bodies of those who were killed.
  • Another unnamed man whose two brothers were summarily executed by soldiers.

Deria, who now lives in Oregon, came to the U.S. as a student in 1983 at the age of 19. His father, a successful businessman, and his brother were killed during the attack on Hargeisa

.”The only reason [his father] was captured and killed was he belonged to a certain tribe in that region of Somalia,” he said. “We lost everything we had, emotionally and physically.”

Deria said the Somali community in the U.S. is watching the Samantar case closely, in part because a number of other former top military officials who served in the regime also have taken up residence here.

“This is not supposed to be a country that harbors war criminals,” Deria said. “We have a lot of evidence against Mr. Samantar. He has done a lot of harm, and we are ready to meet him in court.”

Source: http://www.aolnews.com/world/article/supreme-court-somalis-can-sue-ex-prime-minister-mohamed-ali-samantar-in-us/19499240

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Posted in: African papers