Ruling that former prime minister Manmohan Singh enjoys immunity in his capacity as the head of the state, but not as the finance minister, a US court has partially dismissed an alleged human rights violation case against him, filed by a US-based Sikh man and a Sikh rights group.
US district judge James Boasberg of the district of Columbia gave this ruling in the case filed by New York-based rights group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) and Inderjit Singh.
In their case filed last year, the SFJ and Inderjit claimed that as finance minister, Manmohan "funded several counter-insurgency operations in Punjab during the 1990s, resulting in more than hundred thousand Sikhs being killed extra-judicially by the security forces."
During his tenure as PM, Manmohan was accused of being complicit in the torture and killing of Sikhs.
Judge Boasberg ruled that the US law barred former heads of state from being sued for actions they took while in office, but not for acts or those taken in prior government posts.
However, "while Singh's alleged acts as finance minister are not 'private' per se, they did not occur in the course of his official duties as head of state," Boasberg said.
Following the order, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, legal adviser to the SFJ, said this was the start of a long and uphill battle against the former PM.
According to attorney Ravi Batra, judge Boasberg parsed the head-of-state immunity with a "surgical scalpel" and immunised any and all claims during the 10-year prime ministership while exposing to potential liability those claimed and complained-off acts that were allegedly committed during 1991-1996 as India's finance minister.
"That India chose to leave PM (Manmohan) Singh un-represented based upon a diplomatic calculus has been upset by the court's ruling today. Proper representation of (Manmohan) Singh would have ended the entire case today. The takeaway from the sustainable ruling is that in a nation of laws, always have your lawyer in court to defend you," he said.
"It is also true that what judge Boasberg allowed to survive today is capable of being dismissed as a matter of law based upon subject matter jurisdiction and statute of limitations.
The most dangerous facet of today's ruling is folks serving nations and their governments can be hauled into court beyond the Nuremberg trials as Palestine is trying to do with Israel," Batra said.