Home | News    Monday 18 May 2020

U.S. court holds Sudan liable for terrorism punitive damages


The Aug. 8, 1998, bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. (AP file photo)
May 18 2020 (WASHINGTON) - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Sudan must pay punitive damages related to 1998 terrorist bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The East African nation was previously deemed by lower courts to be complicit in the attacks because it harboured al-Qaeda terrorists including its leader Osama bin Laden in the 1990’s.

Normally foreign states are immune from judicial claims in U.S. courts unless they are designated by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism. Sudan has been on the lost since 1993.

In the latest ruling issued in 2017 judges scrapped $4.3 billion in punitive damages but left around $6 billion judgment against Sudan intact.

The court at the time said that a 2008 amendment to the law does not allow plaintiffs to seek punitive damages for terrorist incidents that occurred before the enactment of the law.

The Supreme court disagreed and insisted that Congress allowed the law to apply retroactively.

“Congress was as clear as it could have been when it authorized plaintiffs to seek and win punitive damages for past conduct," said judge Neil Gorsuch who authored the opinion on behalf of the 7 other judges who ruled on the case in favour of the plaintiffs.

The Supreme Court sent back the case to the lower court to adjust its previous ruling accordingly.

There was a silver lining in today’s decision however as judge Gorsuch hinted that Sudan may have a shot at challenging the constitutionality of the law governing punitive damages.

Lawyers for Sudan also said that despite the ruling most of the $10.3 billion can still be litigated & appealed based on state law governing punitive damaged rather than federal law.

But Sudan may not have much appetite for new legal proceedings that can drag on for several more years.

Officials in Khartoum have been seeking a settlement with the victims outside the court for much lesser amounts. It is unclear what progress was made on this front.

The precarious economic situation of Sudan after the ouster of president Omer Hassan al-Bashir and particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic may act as a catalyst for the plaintiffs to agree to a settlement.

However, the cash strapped nation will still need to figure out a way to come with hundreds of millions of dollars to settle the case with the victims.

The US administration made it clear that Sudan must settle all terrorism-related claims to get off the list of states that sponsor terrorism.

Sudan says the designation is denying it much needed U.S. support for debt relief & borrowing from international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank (WB) & International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The Sudanese financial minister Ibrahim Elbadawi said last week they are working with the IMF to create a new Staff Monitored Program (SMP) to help it achieve economic goals to pave the way for debt relief & normalizing ties with IFIs.

The IMF is still discussing Sudan’s SMP request, its spokesperson told Sudan Tribune.

U.S. law prohibits the president from supporting any loans or debt relief for countries that are on its terrorism blacklist


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