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US sought immunity for Manmohan Singh in his capacity as prime minister, in a human rights case

Tuesday, 17 June 2014 - 12:10pm IST | Agency: PTI

The US sought immunity for Manmohan Singh in his capacity as the Prime Minister in an alleged human rights violations case against him filed by a American Sikh organisation in a court here.

In its fresh petition filed before the court yesterday, Sikh for Justice (SFJ) argued that since Singh is no longer the Prime Minister, the clause of immunity does not apply on him. It argued that because Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA) does not cover acts committed by the foreign officials in their "official capacity" and because defendant Singh is not Prime Minister anymore, it opposes the suggestion of immunity. 

Last September, when Singh visited the US to meet President Barack Obama at the White House, the SFJ had filed a case of alleged human rights violations against him. The court had later issued summons to the Prime Minister. However, on May 2 this year, when Singh was the Prime Minister, the US Department of Justice told the court that he is immune from this suit. 

The Department of Justice argument was supported by a letter from the State Department in this regard at the request of the Indian Government. "The Department of State recognises and allows the immunity of Prime Minister Singh as a sitting head of government from the jurisdiction of the US District Court in this suit," Maty E McLeod, Principal Deputy Legal Advisor, said in a letter to the Department of Justice on April 15.  "In light of his current status as India's head of government, the Republic of India has asked the Department of State to take the steps necessary to have this action against the prime minister dismissed on the basis of his immunity from jurisdiction as a sitting foreign head of government," the State Department said.

As such, the Department of Justice in its May 2 affidavit urged the court that Singh enjoys immunity in the US as the Prime Minister of India. In its footnote, the Department of Justice said that US expresses no view on the merits of SFJ's claims against Singh. It informed the court that the department is approaching it at the request of the Indian Embassy in Washington. "The Office of the Legal Adviser of the US Department of State has informed the Department of Justice that the Embassy of the Republic of India has formally requested the Government of the United States to determine that Prime Minister Singh is immune from this lawsuit," the Justice Department said.


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