The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday rejected [order list] an appeal from Mohamed Ali Samantar [SCOTUSblog backgrounder; JURIST news archive], former Somali prime minister, who was ordered [JURIST report] to pay Somali torture victims $21 million in 2012. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit had upheld [opinion, PDF] the district court's dismissal of Samantar's claim that, as a foreign official, he had common-law immunity for acts performed on behalf of a foreign state despite allegations that those acts violated international law. Thus Samantar could be held liable for human rights abuses related to the killing and torture of members of the Isaaq clan in Somalia throughout the 1980s under former dictator Siad Barre. The Supreme Court did not comment on why it denied the appeal. Justice Elena Kagan took no part in the decision to deny certiorari.
This is the latest step in a case that has lasted nine years and gone through several different court systems. A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] on originally awarded $21 million to seven Somalis in a lawsuit against Samantar in August 2012. The Somalis bringing the lawsuit, some of whom fled to the US and some of whom stayed in Somalia, claimed to have been subjected to torture or potential executions at the hands of the Barre regime and brought the lawsuit under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 [28 USC § 1350, text]. However, that lawsuit left the question of Samantar's immunity open for appeal. In February 2012 Samantar said he would not contest the lawsuit [JURIST report]. Samantar continued to claim immunity even though his claim was initially denied by both the Eastern District Court in 2011 and the Supreme Court in 2010 [JURIST reports].