New York: A US court has issued summons against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his role as the Gujarat chief minister during 2002 riots.
The summons, issued by the Federal Court of Southern District of New York on Thursday, could overshadow his first trip to the United States after a nine-year visa ban.
The lawsuit, filed by the American Justice Center (AJC), a non-profit human rights organisation, identified among the plaintiffs “two survivors of the horrific and organised violence of Gujarat 2002”. It further called for a response from Modi on the basis of the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA).
The civil case before a New York court seeks compensatory and punitive damages from Modi for crimes against humanity and extrajudicial killings.
"The Tort Case against Prime Minister Modi is an unequivocal message to human rights abusers everywhere," said John Bradley, the director at the AJC.
"Time and place and the trappings of power will not be an impediment to justice," he said.
The summons requires Modi to give a response within 21 days after it is served.
The summons document notes that if Modi fails to respond, “judgement by default will be entered against you for the relief demanded in the complaint”.
The 28-page complaint “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”.
The AJC is scheduled to address media today (September 26) to explain the significance of the lawsuit in the survivors’ quest for justice.
The Alien Tort Claims Act, also known as Alien Tort Statute (ATS), is a US federal law first adopted in 1789 that gives the federal courts jurisdiction to hear lawsuits filed by US residents for acts committed in violation of international law outside the US.
Reacting to the lawsuit in New Delhi, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today said the government will examine the reported summons issued by the US court against Modi.
"We will examine it. I don't know it. I am only hearing it from you. We will examine it," Prasad told reporters here.
Meanwhile, an eminent Indian-American lawyer has said that the lawsuit is "dead on arrival", arguing that Modi in his capacity as India's head of state enjoys immunity status.
Given that the US State Department in a recent similar case against former prime minister Manmohan Singh, had said that he enjoyed "immunity status" in his capacity as head of state, New York-based lawyer Ravi Batra has alleged that the lawsuit against Modi is a publicity stunt.
"That the case is dead on arrival on the law, or that Prime Minister Modi currently has head-of-state immunity is irrelevant to those who use lawsuits to generate only publicity and are equal opportunity haters of India no matter whom the Indians elect as part of India's stunning democracy: Indian National Congress or the BJP," Batra said.
The SFJ and AJC differed.
"Plaintiffs are invoking US laws which provide remedy to the victims of gross human rights violations. The genocidal attacks on and organised killing of Muslims in 2002 under the leadership of Modi qualifies as tort under the US and international laws," argued Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, legal advisor, American Justice Center (AJC).
Modi is scheduled to arrive in New York today on his maiden US visit as prime minister. During his five-day visit, Modi would address the annual UN General Assembly, the Indian-American community at Madison Square Garden in New York, and then travel to Washington to meet President Barack Obama on September 29 and 30.
Groups known for their anti-India activities have planned a series of demonstrations against him in both New York and Washington.