WASHINGTON: Somalia’s newly recognised government is asking the State Department to grant immunity to a former prime minister who was found responsible in a US court for human-rights abuses.
The letter issued this week by the Federal Republic of Somalia’s prime minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon, seeks immunity for Mohamed Ali Samantar, who now lives in Fairfax but was a top official in dictator Siad Barre’s regime in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Last year, a federal judge in Alexandria awarded seven Somali victims a $21 million judgment against Samantar for orchestrating a campaign of torture and killings against members of the Isaaq clan.
Samantar fought the case for years, arguing that US courts had no right to pass judgment on internal Somali affairs.
On the eve of trial, he declared bankruptcy and entered a default judgment while continuing to pursue his immunity claim in an appeals court.
While he accepted legal liability for the killings, he denied wrongdoing.
At the time, Samantar was denied immunity in large part because there was no functioning government to claim immunity on his behalf.
After Barre’s regime collapsed in 1991 the country lacked a true central government for more than 20 years.
But in January, the US formally recognised the new Somali government.
Samantar’s attorney, Joseph Peter Drennan, said he expects the US to honour Somalia’s request and the case to be dismissed.
The 4th US Circuit of Appeals rejected an appeal filed by Samantar last year, but Drennan said Friday he will file papers with the US Supreme Court on Monday to have the case tossed out.
“We fully expect the US will honour this request for immunity,” Drennan said.
“To do otherwise would represent an affront to the government of Somalia.” State Department press officers did not respond to questions about the case on Friday.
The fact that the Somali prime minister, who was himself an official in the Barre regime, requested the immunity so soon after receiving US recognition reflects the importance of the case to the Somali government, Drennan said.