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Yousuf v Samantar

    Brief Fact Summary. The suit the natives of Somalia (P) brought against Samantar (D) was based on their claims that they were victims of acts of torture and that their human rights were violated by the agents of the Somali government under the command of Samantar (D). The Natives brought this suit under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 and on Samantar (D) on his part claimed immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Individual officials of a foreign state are not covered under the FSIA.

    Facts. The suit which the Natives of Somalia (P) filed against Samantar (D) was based on their claims that they were victims of acts of torture and that their human rights were violated by the agents of the Somali government under the command of Samantar (D). The Natives (P) brought this suit under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 while Samantar (D) on his part claimed immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). The district court held that Samantar (D) had immunity from the suit and dismissed the suit filed against him. The district court based its decision on the fact that the majority view that individuals acting within the scope of their official duties qualifies them as an “agency or instrumentality of a foreign state†under the FSIA. Review was however granted by the court of appeals.

    Issue. Are individual officials of a foreign state covered under the FSIA?

    Held. No. Individual officials of a foreign state are not covered under the FSIA. Most courts in their consideration of the definition of “agency or instrumentality†as stated in the FSIA, have concluded that an individual foreign official acting within the scope of his official duties is qualified as an “agency or instrumentality of a foreign stateâ€. A critical look at the FSIA definition of an agency or instrumentality as an “entity†that is a “separate legal person…..†suggests that natural persons are not covered under the FSIA.
    According to the House Committee Report on the FSIA which in throwing more light on the meaning of “separate legal person†opined that separate legal person was intended to include a corporation, association, foundation, or any other entity that under the law of the foreign state where it was created in its own name or hold property in its own nameâ€. Therefore it can be ascertained based on these premises that the district court erred in its ruling because the FSIA does not apply to individual foreign government agents like Samantar (D). Reversed.

    Discussion. The approach taken by the court has been criticized based on the fact that the primary goals of the FSIA might be undermined because since little practical difference exists between a suit against a state and a suit against an individual acting in his official capacity, plaintiffs will be able to circumvent state immunity by suing government officials in their individual capacities.


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