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FSIA Inapplicable in Action Against Somali Government Officials

By FindLaw Staff | Last updated on

Samantar v. Yousuf, No. 08-1555, involved an action by persons who were persecuted by the Somali government during the 1980s, alleging that defendant, who then held high-level government positions in Somalia, exercised command and control over the military forces committing the abuses, knew or should have known of such acts, and aided and abetted in their commission.  The Supreme Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit's reversal of the dismissal of the action, holding that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) did not govern petitioner's claim of immunity because there was nothing to suggest that "foreign state" in the FSIA should be read to include an official acting on behalf of that state.

As the Court wrote:  "From 1980 to 1986 petitioner Mohamed Ali Samantar was the First Vice President and Minister of Defense of Somalia, and from 1987 to 1990 he served as its Prime Minister. Respondents are natives of Somalia who allege that they, or members of their families, were the victims of torture and extrajudicial killings during those years. They seek damages from petitioner based on his alleged authorization of those acts. The narrow question we must decide is whether the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA or Act), 28 U. S. C. §§1330, 1602 et seq., provides petitioner with immunity from suit based on actions taken in his official capacity. We hold that the FSIA does not govern the determination of petitioner's immunity from suit."

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