Samantar ruling portends legal danger to alleged foreign torturers
[TamilNet, Wednesday, 02 June 2010, 11:20 GMT]
In an unanimous ruling at the United States Supreme Court, the judges said that a federal law that protects foreign government officials from law suits filed in the U.S. does not cover individuals such as Mohamed Ali Samantar, who was a prime minister in the 1980s in the now ousted government of Siad Biarre. A group of Somalis who allege torture and killings by Samantar's government may pursue legal action against Samantar now living in Fairfax, Virginia, the court ruled.
Smantar, former Somali minister
"Faced with a choice between accountability and immunity, the Supreme Court squarely came down in favor of accountability," said Pamela Merchant, executive director of the Center for Justice and Accountability in San Francisco, according to Washington Post.
"Congress passed the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA) because they did not want torturers who have committed serious human rights crimes to seek safe haven in the United States. The Supreme Court's decision means that the U.S. will not serve as a safe haven," Ms Merchant said.
The legal organization that represented those who sued Samantar said the decision gives teeth to the remedy Congress supplied to let victims recover damages from those who have moved to the United States after committing human rights violations in their home countries.
Lawyers for Samantar and some members of the diplomatic corps had argued to the court that a decision in favor of Bashe Yousef and four other Samantar accusers could have powerful foreign policy implications, and could open U.S. officials to lawsuits in foreign courts.
The court warned that its decision was narrow and that Samantar might have other legal claims of immunity when a district court reconsiders the suit. "Whether petitioner [Samantar] may be entitled to immunity under common law, and whether he may have other valid defenses to the grave charges against him, are matters to be addressed" by lower courts, Stevens wrote, according to Washington Post.
A spokesperson for the US-based pressure group, Tamils Against Genocide (TAG), said, "this ruling is significant for Tamils. Sri Lanka officials who are alleged to have committed war crimes, can no longer claim sovereign immunity in US. Statute of limitations on egragious crimes can be several decades."