On September 30, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case of Samantar v. Yousuf (No. 08-1555). This case is an opportunity for the Supreme Court to resolve questions regarding the scope of the immunity for foreign officials acting in their official capacity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FISA), 28 U.S.C. § 1604. This case may have important implications for potential plaintiffs hoping to bring cases in the United States alleging human rights violations, for example for genocide, against current and former officials of foreign governments.
Under the FISA, "[s]ubject to existing international agreements to which the United States is a party at the time of enactment of this Act a foreign state shall be immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States and of the States except as provided in sections 1605 to 1607 of this chapter." The general exceptions under the FISA include when the foreign state has waived immunity, if there are direct contacts to the United States, certain admiralty cases, and when the case is brought by the foreign state itself. (28 U.S.C. §§ 1605 and 1607)
The specific questions presented in the Petition for Writ of Certiorari are:
1. Whether a foreign state's immunity from suit under the FISA extends to an individual acting in his official capacity on behalf of a foreign state.
2. Whether an individual who is no longer an official of a foreign state at the time suit is filed retains immunity for acts taken in the individual's former capacity as an official acting on behalf of a foreign state.
The initial case, Yousuf v. Samantar, was brought in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in 2004. In that case, the plaintiff, Bashe Abdi Yousuf, alleged that the defendant, Mohamed Ali Samantar, is responsible for "acts of torture, murders, war crimes and other crimes against humanity that occurred while Samantar occupied several 'high-ranking' positions 'in the notorious regime headed by Somalia's President Mohamed Siad Barre' during the 1980s." (Bashe Abdi Yousuf v. Mohamed Ali Samantar , Civil Action 1:04 CV 1360 (E.D.Va. Nov. 10, 2004)) The claims in Yousuf v. Samantar were brought under the Torture Victim Protection and the Alien Tort Claims Acts, 28 U.S.C. § 1350.
Hat tip to Pamela Merchant's post U.S. Supreme Court soon to hear Somalia human rights case on IntLawGrrls for bringing this case to my attention. Pamela is the Executive Director of the Center for Justice and Accountability. The Center for Justice and Accountability website also has an extensive collection of motions, brief, and oral arguments related to the Yousuf v. Samantar case and the Samantar v. Yousuf case.