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US Court Upholds Modi’s Immunity, Dismisses AJC Lawsuit in 2002 Godhra Riots Case

It may come as a relief for many Indian leaders as a US court has dismissed a lawsuit against Prime Minister Narendra Modi accusing of failing to control the 2002 Gujarat riots, due to the immunity he enjoyed as a sitting head of government, intriguing the believers of national sovereignty as such.

India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and the US President, Mr. Barack Obama at the Martin Luther King memorial, in Washington DC on September 30, 2014. (PIB Photo)

India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and the US President, Mr. Barack Obama at the Martin Luther King memorial, in Washington DC on September 30, 2014. (PIB Photo)

The case was filed by a human rights group American Justice Centre (AJC) in New York, which has filed similar cases against former PM Manmohan Singh, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, among others.

The US District Judge Analisa Torres on Wednesday took cognizance of Prime Minister Modi’s status as head of government that entails immunity from such lawsuits and upheld the US Department of State’s contention granting the immunity.

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,” she ruled.

The judge dismissed the AJC plea that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act provided immunity only to foreign states and not to individual government officials and that Modi was not entitled to common law immunity as the Godhra riots took place before he became Prime Minister.

AJC filed the lawsuit against Modi under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 and Alien Tort Statute in September when Modi first visited the US and the UN headquarters in New York.

The dismissal of the case precedes US President Barack Obama’s second trip to India to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations.

The lawsuit alleged that Modi failed to control riots in Gujarat in 2002 being the state chief minister. Though Modi was exonerated from the allegations in Indian courts, the US had imposed ban on his visa in 2005, which was later revoked by President Obama following his election as Prime Minister.

More than the current case, the US has given leverage to its citizens under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 and Alien Tort Statute to interfere in other countries’ sovereignty bereft of the UN principles and it was often misused by the human rights organizations to file cases against dictators as well as elected leaders in other countries.

While other countries have remained silent about the retrograde acts in the US, little has been done by the Western and European countries which have largely ignored such cases, which mean nothing more than embarrassment during the state visits by state dignitaries to the US, espacially New York.

Fortunately, India does not have similar tradition lest a plethora of cases would have been filed before the courts in India embarrassing him during his visit to India on the Republic day.

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