Law invoked to target CM under US scanner | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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Law invoked to target CM under US scanner

The Supreme Court of the United States has been examining the sanctity of its law the Alien Tort Statute (28 USC, 1,350) or ATS which some US-based radical Sikh activists have invoked to target visiting Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal through a federal civil lawsuit in Wisconsin.

chandigarh Updated: Aug 12, 2012 12:59 IST
Pawan Sharma

The Supreme Court of the United States has been examining the sanctity of its law the Alien Tort Statute (28 USC, 1,350) or ATS which some US-based radical Sikh activists have invoked to target visiting Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal through a federal civil lawsuit in Wisconsin.


It was just hours before Badal was scheduled to reach the US on a private visit that a court of the Eastern District of Wisconsin issued summons on August 8 to Badal on a petition filed by New York-based human rights group 'Sikhs for Justice' and some pro-Khalistan activists.

The lawsuit accuses Badal of torture of Sikhs and of defending "notorious" police officers before Indian courts. It seeks a "compensatory damage" and a jury trial, and thus the court issued the summons, giving Badal 21 days to answer.

The ATS, also known as the Alien Tort Claims Act or ATCT, is a section of the US Code that reads: "The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States." This statute allows US courts to hear human rights cases brought by foreign citizens for conduct committed outside the US.

According to Anupam Gupta, a leading Chandigarh-based lawyer who has studied the US law, the US Congress enacted the ATS in 1789, following an attack on a French diplomat in 1784, to prevent breaches of customary international law, especially breaches concerning diplomats and merchants.
From 1789 until 1980 - for nearly 200 years - this law lay in disuse. It was in 1980, in a case 'Filartiga versus Pena-Irala', it was applied and since then jurisdiction under the ATS had been upheld in dozens of cases.

But, in 2004, for the first time the ambit and scope of the law came for interpretation before the US Supreme Court in the case 'Sosa versus Alvarez'. Gupta said, "In that case, The US SC limited the ATS to the very narrow set of claims akin to the kinds of cases which were contemplated by the legislature in 1789 when the statute came into being."

Now, the ATS is a subject matter of a very serious debate before the US Supreme Court in a case 'Kiobel versus Royal Dutch Petroleum'. The plaintiff had sought damages under the ATS, but in September 2010 the US court of appeals held that corporations cannot be held liable for violations of customary international law and dismissed the claim of plaintiff for lack of jurisdiction.

Kiobel then moved the US Supreme Court for review of the decision. While oral arguments were held on February 28, 2012, the US's top court directed that it would hold further argument on the case in October 2012 on a key question - 'Whether and under what circumstances the Alien Tort Statute (28 USC 1,350) allows courts to recognize a cause of action for violations of the law of nations occurring within the territory of a sovereign other than the United States.'

"More than any other case in American judicial history, the suit filed against Punjab CM Badal exemplifies the grotesque abuse of extra territorial jurisdiction inherent in the ATS," Gupta opined.