Supreme Court To Decide Whether Alleged Foreign War Criminals Can Be Sued In Civil Court

By Eamon McNiff

Feb 19, 2010 5:08pm

ABC News' Eamon McNiff reports:

The Supreme Court recently granted Certiorari for the first ever lawsuit filed concerning human rights abuses allegedly committed in Somalia during the Siad Barre Military Dictatorship. The court is reviewing whether or not the defendant in the case Mohamed Samantar, former Defense Minister under Siad Barre, in charge of the military, and current resident of Fairfax, Virginia is immune from civil suit in the United States for alleged human rights abuses committed under his command in Somalia.

The suit, Yousuf v Samantar was filed by the Center for Justice and Accountability on behalf of five former Somali citizens who claim they were victims of torture by troops under Samantar’s command. Two of the plaintiffs are now U.S. citizens.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in 2004 and was dismissed on sovereign immunity grounds in 2007.  The district court ruled that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) immunized former General Samantar from civil suit in the United States.  On January 8, 2009 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reinstated the case and held that the FSIA would not immunize General Samantar from suit. Samantar’s legal team then brought the case to the Supreme Court. Samantar’s lawyers argue there is no evidence tying their client to any war crimes committed in Somalia.  They say any war crimes committed were outside Samantar’s control and, in any event, Samantar is immune under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

The court’s decision could have far reaching ramifications regarding government officials being sued in civil court for war crimes committed in foreign countries – potentially including U.S. government officials. Oral arguments are scheduled to being in March.

To review the court filings surrounding this case click on the links below:

- Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint

- Defendants Memo to Dismiss Second Amendment Complaint

- Eastern District of Virginia Opinion

- Fourth Circuit Opinion

- Petitioner’s Brief US Supreme Court

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