Samantar Mohammed Ali

23.04.2016 ( Last modified: 03.01.2017 )
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Mohamed Ali Samantar was born in Somalia in 1931. He finished school in Mogadishu and became a member of the Somali army.

He joined the officer corps of the Somali National Army (SNA) in 1960 and was later promoted to lieutenant colonel and then to general.

He participated in the 1969 military coup triggered by the assassination of Abdirashid Ali Shermake that brought President Siad Barre to power. On 6 august 1971 Barre appointed Samantar the Minister of defence and First Vice President of Somalia. From 1987 to 1990 Samantar held the office of the Prime Minister of Somalia.

In 1981, the north-western part of the country took up arms and formed the Somaliland National Movement (SNM) to resist Barre government. Samantar allegedly oversaw the reprisals led by government troops in May and June of 1988 and allegedly commanded the forces that attacked the civilian population and committed severe crimes like mass killings, forced disappearances, rapes, arbitrary detentions, torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as well as other crimes against humanity and other war crimes. Approximately 5.000 civilians were killed in the assault.

When Barre was overthrown by warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid and his rebel group, the United Somali Congress (USC) in 1991, Samantar fled to Italy and in 1997 to the United States.


legal procedure

On 10 November 2004, the Centre for Justice & Accountability (CJA) and pro bono co-counsel Cosley Godward Kronish filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on behalf of five torture survivors.

In 2007 the case (Yousuf v. Samantar) was dismissed at first instance on immunity grounds. CJA appealed and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned the dismissal and reinstated the case on 8 January 2009. Thereupon Samantar appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On 1 June 2010 the Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s ruling, holding that Samantar is not protected by sovereign immunity. It remanded the case for proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

On 23 February 2012, Samantar personally appeared in Court and accepted liability and responsibility for damages for torture, extrajudicial killings, war crimes and other human rights abuses committed against the civilian population of Somalia during the Siad Barre regime.

On 28 August 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema awarded $21 million in compensatory and punitive damages against Samantar.

On 5 May 2014, Samantar petitioned again to the Supreme Court.

On 9 March 2015, the Supreme Court declined for the second time to review the appeal and upheld the torture and crimes against humanity decision against Samantar.

The United States Supreme Court awarded $21 million in compensatory and punitive damages for torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights abuses committed by Samantar to the victims.

On 19 August 2016, Samantar died in Virginia, United States. He was 85 years old.



CJA’s case marks the first time that any Somali government official has been held accountable for the atrocities perpetrated under the Siad Barré regime.


Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country’s territory. Somalia has been characterized as a failed state. Since 1991, an estimated 350,000 to 1,000,000 Somalis had died because of the conflict. Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali referred to the killing of civilians in the Somalian Civil War as a “genocide”. Aid agencies continue to warn of acute humanitarian crisis: some 1.1 million estimated displaced since fighting resumed January 2006.

In the late 19th century, the British and Italians gained control of parts of the coast, and established British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland. This occupation lasted until 1941, when it was replaced by a British military administration. Northern Somalia remained a protectorate, while southern Somalia became a trusteeship. In 1960 the two regions united into the independent Somali Republic under a civilian government. Mohamed Siad Barre seized power in 1969 and established the Somali Democratic Republic. In 1991, Barre’s government collapsed as the Somali Civil War broke out.

The northwestern part of the country has been relatively stable under the self-declared, but unrecognized, sovereign state of Somaliland. The self-governing region of Puntland covers the northeast of the country. It declares itself to be autonomous, but not independent from Somalia. The Islamist Al-Shabaab controls a large part of the south of the country. The internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government controls only parts of the capital and some territory in the centre.

In December 1992, a coalition of United Nations peacekeepers formed UNITAF, tasked with ensuring humanitarian aid be distributed and peace be established in Somalia. The UN withdrew on March 3, 1995. UNOSOM II, second UN mission, withdrew March 1995.

Series of peace talks failed to achieve agreement on new Somali government until August 2000, when Abdikassim Salat Hassan elected transitional president by various clan leaders at gathering in Arta, Djibouti. Violence fuelled by clan-based faction leaders unhappy with Arta arrangement persisted until 2002, when Abdikassim’s transitional government signed ceasefire sponsored by Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), East African regional body. In 2004, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was founded in Nairobi, Kenya. Matters were still too chaotic inside Somalia to convene in Mogadishu.

Heavy fighting broke out early 2006 between Union of Islamic Courts’ (UIC) militia and members of U.S.-backed Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT). The UIC had pushed moderates aside and began to set up a conservative Islamic state. TFG and UIC leaders met in Khartoum in June 2006 for peace talks, but no deal was reached. In July Ethiopian troops entered to support TFG. Prospects for power-sharing between UIC and TFG decreased as UIC refused to participate with Ethiopian troops in country. Full-scale conflict erupted December 2006 after Islamists gave Ethiopia seven-day ultimatum to withdraw. Defeat of Islamists signaled return to clan-based politics in country. Security worsened early 2008. Key districts fell to insurgents late April as Mogadishu witnessed some of heaviest fighting in decade.

In December 2008, Ethiopian soldiers withdrew from Somalia, leaving behind an African Union contingent of several thousand troops to help the fragile coalition government and its troops enforce their authority. Following Ethiopia’s withdrawal from Somalia, the southern half of the country rapidly fell into the hands of radical Islamist rebels. On 7 May 2009, the rebels attacked Mogadishu, capturing most of the city but failing to overthrow the government, which maintained control over a few square kilometers of the city. Afterwards, President Ahmad appealed for help from abroad.

The long-standing absence of authority in the country has led to Somali pirates becoming a major threat to international shipping in the area, and has prompted NATO to take the lead in an anti-piracy operation.

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