Federal judge awards $21 million in lawsuit against ex-Somalia PM

A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Aug. 28 awarded $21 million to seven Somalis in a lawsuit against former Somali prime minister  Mohamed Ali Samantar. The lawsuit, which started in 2004 and made it all the way to the US Supreme Court, alleges Samantar was responsible for the killing and torture of members of the Isaaq clan in Somalia throughout the 1980s under former dictator Siad Barre. The Somalis bringing the lawsuit, some of whom fled to the US and some of whom stayed in Somalia, were represented by the Center for Justice and Accountability. They claim 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. The judgement included $2 million in punitive damages and $1 million in compensatory damages to the individual plaintiffs. Samantar's lawyers say they will appeal the ruling. The question of whether Samantar was improperly denied immunity is already on appeal.

This is the latest step in a case that has lasted eight years and gone through several different court systems. Samantar continues to claim immunity even though his claim was denied by both the  Eastern District Court, and by the Supreme Court in June 2010.

From Jurist, Aug. 29. Used with permission.



Samantar and the Somaliland connection

From an AP account of the $21 million award:

During the...trial, the plaintiffs presented evidence including a 1989 BBC interview in which Samantar acknowledged a leadership role in the bombing of Hargeisa, a city in the northern part of the country. Hargeisa was home to a large Isaaq population and a stronghold of a regional movement to break off from Somalia.

The evidence also included testimony from an army colonel who said he overheard a series of radio communications in which Barre was urging moderation in a bombing campaign, while Samantar advocated a harsher attack.

Readers will be aware that the 1988 bombardment of Hargeisa was an effort to beat back the independence struggle in Somaliland—which nonetheless remains a de facto independent state today. We've noted the irony before: So-called "government-controlled" Somalia in the south is a war zone, while Somaliland, with no recognized government, is an enclave of stability. How telling that even in news accounts that directly concern it, the mainstream media refuse to actually invoke the name of Somaliland...