News / Africa

Ex-Somali PM Ordered to Pay Plaintiffs in War Crimes Case

Peter Heinlein
A U.S. court has ordered a former Somali prime minister to pay $21 million to victims of torture and human rights abuses while he was in office.  

A federal district court near Washington ruled that Mohamed Ali Samantar must pay damages to victims of torture and human rights abuses during the 1980s.

Samantar was a senior general under former Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, who was overthrown in 1991.  At different times, he served as vice president, defense minister and prime minister during the 21 years he ruled the Horn of Africa nation.

The civil court judgment comes after an eight-year legal battle that at one point went to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Samantar ended efforts to defend himself in the civil case and declared bankruptcy, making it unlikely that the seven plaintiffs in the case would receive any money.

This Thursday, June 23, 2011 photo shows Aziz Deria in Washington.This Thursday, June 23, 2011 photo shows Aziz Deria in Washington.
x
This Thursday, June 23, 2011 photo shows Aziz Deria in Washington.
This Thursday, June 23, 2011 photo shows Aziz Deria in Washington.
One plaintiff, Abduaziz Deria of Bellevue, Washington said he was not concerned with money.  He said the more important issue was justice for relatives who died in aerial bomb attacks on the northern city of Hargeisa in which human rights groups say more than 50,000 people were killed.

"The case was not about money.  We know the guy doesn't have a lot of money," he said. "All we wanted from him was an apology and an acknowledgement.  He has done a lot of harm to his people.  He committed a crime against humanity."

Samantar is 76 years old and in failing health.  He did not return telephone calls asking for comment.  His attorney, Joseph Peter Drennan, said Samantar rejects the charges against him as politically motivated.

"Of course it was not about money.  It was about politics," he said. "It was about trying to brand Samantar as a war criminal."

Drennan says his client strongly denies any wrongdoing, and only ended his defense because of financial hardship.

"The default [monetary judgment] that Samantar was essentially obliged to take because of a dearth of resources has been egregiously misinterpreted and misconstrued by advocates for this litigation," he said.

Kathy Roberts of the California-based Center for Justice and Accountability was the lead plaintiff's attorney in the case.  She says the judgment against Samantar sets an important precedent for future cases that may be brought against accused war criminals seeking refuge in the United States.

"The court's ruling [sends] a message to victims and perpetrators alike that the U.S. will not provide a safe haven to war criminals," she said. "Individuals who are perpetrating Syria's human rights violations who may think they are acting with impunity should be aware that the arc of justice is long but it does come."

Defense attorney Drennan, however, says the court's judgment against Samantar sets a dangerous precedent.  He maintains that such cases are inherently political, and have no place in an American courtroom.

"Given the instability in places like Syria and Yemen, among other places, it is entirely possible that those who advocate for this type of litigation will attempt to invoke this as a precedent.  I don't think it would be a valid precedent because I think it is fundamentally a flawed decision," he said.

Drennan says the court's ruling is already being appealed on the grounds that Samantar was improperly denied immunity from prosecution.

You May Like

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

Al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs