(Cambridge, MA) – The US Supreme Court has ruled that foreign government officials who commit human rights abuses while in office are not entitled to immunity in US courts under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). The Court unanimously held that FSIA immunity extends only to foreign states and their agencies, not to individuals.
A brief prepared by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) on behalf of more than twenty amici curiae argued that the FSIA does not shield individual former officials from suit in US courts for violations of fundamental human rights such as torture and extrajudicial killing. Amici included Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, EarthRights International, and the IHRC, as well as individual torture survivors such as Dolly Filártiga, who brought the first successful case against a torturer under the Alien Tort Statute in 1980.
"The Supreme Court’s ruling is a victory for survivors of torture," said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch. "It puts to rest the idea that officials can get away with torture by hiding behind a law that protects foreign governments from suit."
The case, 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. The Supreme Court’s decision means the case against Samantar is remanded to the district court for further proceedings.