Washington: A U.S. federal district judge has dismissed the case brought by the American Justice Center, a human rights group, against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for his alleged role in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, at a time when he was the was the Chief Minister of the state.
In essence U.S. Judge Analisa Torres of the Southern District of New York affirmed that a “sitting head of state’s immunity from jurisdiction is based on the Executive Branch’s determination of official immunity without regard to the specific conduct alleged.”
On the strength of this argument on January 14, she has dismissed three specific claims made by the plaintiffs, who include the AJC as well “Asif,” “Jane Doe,” and multiple “John Does,” under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 and Alien Tort Statute.
Last September, even before Mr. Modi had touched down on U.S. soil after a nine-year visa ban, the New York court issued summons against and called for a response from him.
Specifically the twenty-eight page complaint filed was said to seek compensatory and punitive damages and “charges PM Modi with committing crimes against humanity, extra-judicial killings, torture and inflicting mental and physical trauma on the victims, mostly from the Muslim community.”
Although Judge Torres did not argue that Mr. Modi was not culpable of any acts linked to the Gujarat killings, her dismissal of the case stemmed from the U.S. State Department’s “suggestion of immunity” made on September 30.
At the time Acting Legal Adviser Mary McLeod said, “The Department of State recognises and allows the immunity of Prime Minister Modi as a sitting head of government from the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court in this suit. Under common law principles of immunity articulated by the Executive Branch in the exercise of its constitutional authority over foreign affairs and informed by customary international law, Prime Minister Modi, as the sitting head of government of a foreign state, is immune from the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court in this suit while in office.”
On Wednesday Judge Torres dismissed the plaintiffs’ argument that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act provided immunity only to foreign states and not to individual government officials; that Mr. Modi was not entitled to common law immunity in this case because he committed human rights violations that exceeded his official authority and because the alleged acts took place before he was Prime Minister; and that the TVPA and ATS override or create an exception to Executive Branch determinations regarding the immunity of foreign officials.
Reviewing these and other claims made by the plaintiffs she said in a ruling, the court had “finds them to be without merit. Accordingly, in light of the determination by the Executive Branch that Prime Minister Modi is entitled to immunity as the sitting head of a foreign government, he is immune from the jurisdiction of this Court in this suit. The complaint is DISMISSED.”