Court: Victims can sue ex-Somali prime minister

Mohamed Ali Samantar

The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to block a lawsuit against a former prime minister of Somalia over claims that he oversaw killings and torture in his home country.

The high court said it will allow lawsuits against Mohamed Ali Samantar to go forward despite his claims of immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. However, the court warned that the U.S. District Court will have to decide whether Samantar can access other claims of immunity that could stop the trial.

The court’s decision could have broad foreign policy implications. Allowing lawsuits against former foreign officials living in the United States could increase the likelihood that U.S. officials would be sued in overseas courts. An increase in the number of U.S. lawsuits dealing with past actions in foreign countries could also affect the United States’ current ties with those countries.

Samantar was defense minister and prime minister of Somalia in the 1980s and early 1990s under dictator Siad Barre.

He now lives in Virginia. He is being sued under the Torture Victim Protection Act by Somalis living in the United States who were subjected to persecution in the 1980s. They say Samantar was in charge of military forces who tortured, killed or detained them or members of their families.

A federal judge had thrown out the lawsuits against Samantar, saying he is entitled to diplomatic immunity under the FSIA. That law says “a foreign state shall be immune from the jurisdiction” of federal and state courts in most lawsuits. The federal judge said that protection extends to “an individual acting in his official capacity on behalf of a foreign state.”

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, saying that immunity does not extend to individuals, only to foreign states and their agencies.

The high court upheld that ruling.

“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,” said retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, writing the unanimous judgment for the court. “The text does not foreclose petitioner’s reading, but it supports the view of respondents and the United States that the Act does not address an official’s claim to immunity.”

The court said its decision does not mean that the lawsuit against Samantar automatically goes forward.

“Whether petitioner may be entitled to immunity under the common law, and whether he may have other valid defenses to the grave charges against him, are matters to be addressed in the first instance by the District Court on remand,” Stevens said.

The case is Samantar v. Yousuf, 08-1555.


  1. Dr.Abdul says

    Brining Ali 2 justice is not going 2 slove somali’s problems . It’s about time 2 heal the wounds of the nation . We’ve more pressing problems than digging the past . Thousands of young generations lifes have been wasted , the country has gone back 2 the stone age era and yet we talk about Ali Samatar . It’s about time we take the torch of united and peacefull Somalia 2 the finishing line first and build a system 4 a better future . Peace brs and sists

  2. Duq Ciise says


    Waxaan u dhashay Puntland. Maxamed Cali Samatar iyo xukunkii uu ka tirsanaa ee Maxamed Siyaad ayaa u sabab ah dhibka maanta taagan oo dhammaan la’a. Haddii hadaba ay jiraan dad Somaliyeed (Reer waqooyi) oo raba inay daba gallaan ciddii danbi ka gashay xaq bay u leeyihiin. Waxaa saaran waajib inay ciddii danbi gashay isku si u daba gallaan oo aysan shaqsi gaara eedayn. Inaga Reer Puntland ahaana waxaan filayaa inay inagu filantahay taageero aynu siino Cali Samatar inaynaan u qabsan danbigii uu naga galay maadaama tii mid kadaran ay wali taagantahay laakiin inaan dad kale xaquuqdooda duudsino waa khalad.
    Duq Ciise

  3. Saamiya says

    Runtii cali Samatar ma kala jeclayn Somaali markii xukunka dilka ah ku qaadii hogaankii xooga dalka.
    Anagoo udhashay gobolka Banaadir waxaan marag ka ahaay dagaalkii amxaarada kadid sanakii 77-78, tiro ila 80 ciidan ah oo udhashay gobolada koonfureed ayaa si xaq daro ayadoo aan maxkamad la gayn geed hoostii inta lagu xukumay lagu tooktay.
    Anagi waxaan aan la yaabanahy kuwo hada dhahaaya ree waqooyi uu dilee maxaa macno ah.

  4. Sharamarke Tanadeh says

    Great news. Let the hand of justice prevail. Let the others who committed crimes against the Somali people be brought to justice, regardless whether the criminal belongs to a minority clan or a majority one. It doesn’t matter whether they belong to DAROD, DIR or HAWIYE. By ensuring that these tyrants are punished accordingly, no more dictator will carry out similar atrocities again.

  5. Somalilander says


    just to respond to “Nuune”

    Somalilanders will go after every criminal, Morgan is not in the US and can not visit any Western nation or Somaliland friendly nations such as Ethiopia.

    There is separate case for him been filed in Kenya however we all know Kenya’s justice system, so we will never know about that.

    As for Abdullahi Yusuf, he did nothing wrong to Landers, infact he worked for the SNM and took part in the bringing down of Somalia and Siad Bare – good on him.

    If anyone needs to go after A Yusuf it’s Ogadens and Hawiye.

    This is good news we careless about him belonging to “minority”.

    • Kuuska says

      Somalilander, Your arguments are not based on the need for justice as evident from your comments. I see now, justice alla SL; Anyone who helped SNM aggression on its own people, wives, children, houses, etc is “a friend of SL”! Anyone who stood against the same aggression on Somalia is “the enemy of SL”! How pathetic!.

      Samatar, defended Somalia, he would have done the same. I would have the done the same, America has done the same, the whole free world would have done the same. Make no mistake, Samatar will not be alone as he was, by far, one of the most respected and credible people in Somalia.

      • Sharmarke Tanadeh says

        If America would have done the same, the so called ‘free world’ would have done the same then your puerile conclusion is that it is right what Samatar did. Exterminating and massacring and a genocide act is what Samatar and Barre and their cohorts did to not only people in the northern Somalia but in many parts of the country. Members of the former SRC – Golaha Sare ee Kacaanka, should be hunted and brought to justice. They must stand in fornt of an international court or an independent judiciary system where they are given the opportunity to defend themselves and any victim can come and forward own cases. NO revenge but justice is the need.

        • Kuuska says

          I agree with you, anyone who has committed crimes must be held accountable. The view that justice is a matter of convenience, is what has brought Somalia to its knees. Even if we take your short sighted view that all former SRC should be hunted, Kaahin Riaale, a lead member of then the killing squad, would not have been SL’s president! The only reason is the tribal class. If Samatar was from Isaq, Darood, or Hawiye, he would have been a hero instead and you people would have kept singing Guulwadow Siyad. Who did the extermination; SNM,SSDF,USC et al, period. Let us look for our ancestors before we can claim credibility.

  6. Yoonis says

    as I see Somalis are narrow minded, based on triblism is the one destroyed whole country,It is a desease whithout cure. Samater was and is one of the worrest destroyers of Somali country,he deserve to get punishment not only Samater also Dafle etc.

  7. YOONIS says

    Lon live mudane Ali Samatar; he is himself the victim of conspiracy; and for sure, he with Gods help will win over this case


  8. says

    Isaaq are planning to renew the hostility among somalis they know that samatar is from minority clan that is why isaaq are accusing him. Why don’t they blame Morgan or abdilahi yousuf? They can’t do it because these men are from majerten.