Yousuf v. Samantar: Ex-Somali Defense Minister is Denied Common Law Immunity for Torture and Killings

In an order issued on February 15, 2011, Judge Brinkema of the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that General Samantar, the former defense minister of Somalia during the brutal Siad Barre regime, is not immune from suit.On April 1, 2011, Judge Brinkema denied Samantar’s motion for reconsideration of his immunity claim as well as his motion to dismiss the case.

The ruling clears a legal hurdle that has been contested for years, including at the U.S. Supreme Court.  Last June, the Supreme Court held that General Samantar was not entitled to immunity under the Federal Sovereign Immunities Act, but left open the question of whether he is entitled to common law immunity.  The district court settled that question by deferring to the United States Statement of Interest, which unequivocally declared that General Samantar is not entitled to any immunity from suit.  The court’s ruling forecloses any remaining claim that the defendant may have had to official immunity.

The Statement of Interest is significant because the United States only occasionally intervenes in litigation and very rarely intervenes to state that a defendant is not entitled to official immunity.  In reaching its conclusion that immunity is not appropriate, the State Department emphasized that the Defendant is a long-time resident of the U.S., and should therefore be subject to U.S. laws.  The State Department also emphasized the fact that the U.S. does not recognize any government of Somalia, and thus there is no government to assert immunity on behalf of Samantar.

Two plaintiffs, Bashe Yousuf and Aziz Deria, who filed this lawsuit almost seven years ago said, “We are delighted and grateful that the United States will not shield Samantar from our attempt to hold him accountable for the horrific things that he did to the people of Somalia.  General Samantar is responsible for the imprisonment, torture and murders of thousands of innocent people.  Despite his history, General Samantar has lived freely in the U.S. for almost fifteen years and he has repeatedly tried to evade our efforts to pursue this case.  We look forward to our day in court where once and for all we will have an opportunity to hold Samantar accountable.”