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Monday, January 12, 2009


Court's decision paves way for individuals to be sued for violating human rights

For Immediate Release
January 8, 2009
CONTACT: Elizabeth Chertoff, Media Coordinator, 415-544-0444, ext. 303,

(Richmond, Virginia). Today, January 8, 2009, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed a federal district court’s decision dismissing the human rights lawsuit filed against former Somali General Mohamed Ali Samantar. As a result, the case against General Samantar for his role in overseeing the widespread and systematic use of torture, rape, prolonged arbitrary detention and mass executions committed against the civilian population of Somalia in the 1980s, has been reinstated.

The suit, filed on behalf of five survivors of torture and other human rights abuses, was dismissed by the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in 2007. The district court ruled that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) immunized former General Samantar from civil suit in the U.S. The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded, finding that the FSIA does not apply to individuals and that Congress did not intend to immunize "individual foreign government agents like Samantar" when it enacted the FSIA. The Court further held that Congress did not intend to shield former government agents from suit under the FSIA.

"Today's ruling by the Fourth Circuit is an extraordinary victory for the people of Somalia who suffered severe repression under the military regime of Siad Barré and General Samantar and it is an important step in ensuring that human rights abusers who seek safe haven in the U.S. will be held accountable in our courts," said Pamela Merchant, Executive Director of the Center for Justice and Accountability which initiated the lawsuit. "It is unconscionable that this war criminal can live in the U.S., just a few miles from the nation's capitol."

CJA and pro bono co-counsel Cooley Godward Kronish LLP represent five Somali survivors against Samantar who was the Minister of Defense during the regime of Siad Barré during the 1980s. The lawsuit alleges that Samantar's subordinates in the Armed Forces committed torture, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other widespread abuses in violation of international law. Samantar has lived in Virginia since at least 1998. For a copy of the decision and more information and background on the case, Yousuf v. Samantar, please visit

CJA is a San Francisco-based human rights organization dedicated to deterring torture and other severe human rights abuses around the world and advancing the rights of survivors to seek truth, justice and redress. CJA uses litigation to hold perpetrators individually accountable for human rights abuses, develop human rights law, and advance the rule of law in countries transitioning from periods of abuse.

All the best,
Pamela Merchant
Executive Director

PS: CJA relies on contributions from individuals like you to continue our work. Please consider making a donation today.

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