• Press Release

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Case against Former Somali Minister of Defense One Month from Today

March 27, 2011

Amnesty International USA
Joint Press Release
February 3, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Case against Former Somali Minister of Defense One Month from Today

Major human rights organizations file amici curiae brief along with individual torture survivors and their families, religious groups, and torture survivor support organizations

February 3, 2010, Cambridge, MA – The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether former foreign government officials who committed human rights abuses while in office are entitled to immunity in U.S courts. A brief on behalf of more than twenty amici curiae argues that the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA) does not immunize individual former officials from suit in U.S. courts for violations of fundamental human rights such as torture and extrajudicial killing. Amici include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, EarthRights International, and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), as well as individual torture survivors such as Dolly Filartiga, who brought the first successful case against a torturer under the Alien Tort Statute in 1980.

"Former officials who committed torture should not be allowed to hide behind the cloak of official immunity," said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel with Human Rights Watch.

The case pending before the Supreme Court, Samantar v. Yousuf, brings claims against Somali General Mohamed Ali Samantar for torture, rape, and mass executions committed against the civilian population of Somalia during the 1980s. Argument is scheduled for March 3, 2010.

The IHRC drafted the brief in collaboration with some of the leading human rights organizations around the globe. Tyler Giannini, Clinical Director of the IHRC and Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, served as counsel of record. "A long line of cases ensures that torture survivors-including American students, relief workers, and U.S. government personnel-can seek justice in U.S. courts against former government officials," Giannini said. "The Supreme Court should not alter this established case law or deny survivors an opportunity for redress," he continued.

The case involves the claims of Bashe Abdi Yousuf as well as other torture survivors. Somali National Security Service agents and military police detained and tortured Yousuf. They subjected him to electrocution, denied him food and water, and forced him into stress positions, including tying his arms and legs tied behind his body and placing a heavy rock on his back.

Vienna Colucci, Senior Advisor for Policy at Amnesty International USA, which published the groundbreaking USA: Safe Haven for Torturers report, explained, "Survivors of torture have a legal right to a remedy. U.S. courts must enforce that right."

Gabor Rona, International Legal Director of Human Rights First, which was closely involved in the passage of the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) along with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, stressed the importance of protecting torture claims such as Mr. Yousuf’s: "The United States must provide victims with enforceable remedies against former officials of foreign governments responsible for torture. Congress passed the TVPA in 1991 specifically to ensure that the United States would abide by its international legal obligations under the Convention against Torture."

Rick Herz, Litigation Coordinator for EarthRights International, noted, "Any interpretation of the FSIA that bars such suits would have profound implications for torture survivors, stripping them of the access to justice that Congress explicitly intended."

For a complete list of signatories, or for a copy of the brief, go to www.law.harvard.edu/programs/hrp.

The case against Samantar was filed on behalf of Somali survivors, who were represented initially by the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA). For the appeal before the Supreme Court, CJA has been joined by Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP; the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic; Cooley Godward Kronish LLP; and Howe & Russell, PC.


· Vienna Colucci, Amnesty International: +1-312-435-6388; [email protected];

· Andrea Prasow, Human Rights Watch: +1-202-612-4352 or +1-917-842-5109; [email protected];

· Tyler Giannini, International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School: +1-617-496-7368; [email protected];

· Gabor Rona, Human Rights First: +1-212-845-5246; [email protected];

· Rick Herz, EarthRights International: +1-860-233-4938; [email protected];