Manmohan Singh immune as PM, not as FM: US court

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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 a human rights violation case against him filed by a US-based Sikh man and a Sikh rights group.

US District Judge James Boasberg in District of Columbia gave this ruling in an alleged human rights violation case filed by New York-based rights group, "Sikhs for Justice" (SFJ) and an individual, Inderjit Singh.

In their case filed last year, SFJ and Inderjit Singh claimed that as finance minister Manmohan Singh "funded several counter insurgency operations in state of Punjab during the 1990s resulting in more than hundred thousand Sikhs being killed extra-judicially by the security forces".

During his tenure as prime minister, Singh was accused of being complicit in the torture and killing of Sikhs.

Judge Boasberg ruled that US law bars 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 advisor to SFJ, said this is a start of long and uphill battle against the former prime minister.

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 Mastership reign 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 Singh un-represented based upon a diplomatic calculus has been upset by the court's ruling today. Proper representation of Singh would have ended the entire case today. The takeaway from today's 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 J 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.

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