U.S. Judge Rules Former Prime Minister of India does not have Immunity for Killings of Sikhs while he was Finance Minister

Sunday, August 24, 2014
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (file photo: Reuters)

India’s former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh is immune from an allegation that he supported an alleged genocide of Sikhs during his 10-year rule, a U.S. judge ruled this week. But U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in the District of Columbia said that Singh, who resigned in May, did not have "head-of-state immunity" from allegations concerning his time as India's finance minister in the 1990s.

Inderjit Singh, an Indian Sikh, claimed in his 2013 suit that as finance minister from 1991 to 1996, Manmohan Singh, also a Sikh, allegedly funded cash rewards for members of the military who murdered Sikhs. The suit also claimed that when he was prime minister from 2004 to 2014, Singh was complicit in the alleged torture and killing of hundreds of thousands of members of the religious minority.

There are more than 21 million Sikhs in India, according to the country's 2011 census, but they make up only 2 per cent of the population. Most Sikhs live in Punjab, a northwestern state of India. The community had tense relations with India's Hindu majority in the 1980s and 1990s, during a failed insurgency for a separate Sikh nation.

Thousands of Sikhs were killed in 1984 following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for the Indian Army storming the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest shrine. But no large-scale violence took place in the 21st century as claimed by Inderjit Singh.

Boasberg ruled that U.S. law bars former heads of state from being sued for actions they took while in office, but not for private acts or those taken in prior government posts.

"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 wrote.

Inderjit Singh claimed in his suit that Manmohan Singh had authorized "counterinsurgency operations" across India in which hundreds of thousands of Sikhs were allegedly kidnapped, murdered and buried in mass graves. The suit also claimed that the prime minister shielded and promoted political allies and members of the military who orchestrated massacres of Sikhs.

According to Reuters, Inderjit Singh is representing himself and could not be reached for comment. An attorney for the New York City-based group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), which helped Inderjit Singh file the suit, also did not respond to a request for comment.

In May the U.S. Department of Justice had urged Boasberg to dismiss the entire suit because it was filed when Singh was still a sitting head of state. The Justice Department cited a 2004 decision in which the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a suit against Jiang Zemin, the former president of China, by practitioners of the spiritual group Falun Gong.

Boasberg ruled that the cases were different because all of the claims against Jiang stemmed from his time as a head of state.

Overseas Sikh groups have long targeted members of India’s Congress party for the anti-Sikh violence that took place in the 1980s and 1990s. In June, a U.S. federal court in Brooklyn dismissed a lawsuit filed by SFJ against party president Sonia Gandhi.

Even 20 years after the end of the Sikh insurgency in the 1990s, there is little transparency on the role of the state in stamping it out through false encounters and the disappearance of thousands of Sikhs in Punjab.

But these latest claims by Inderjit Singh have received little media coverage in India, because there is little credence given to his allegation of an anti-Sikh ‘genocide’ under Manmohan Singh in 2004-2014, when no such violence was reported.

- Karan Singh


To Learn More:

  US Court Allows Service of Summons on Manmohan's Daughter in Rights Violation Suit (by I.P. Singh, Times of India)

Ex-India PM Immune from some Claims of Sikh Genocide: U.S. Judge (by Daniel Weissner, Reuters)

Khalistan: Almost Three Decades After Operation Blue Star, Movement For Sikh Homeland Fading Away (by Palash Ghosh, International Business Times)

US Court Dismisses 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots Case against Sonia Gandhi (Times of India)

Memorandum Opinion (United States District Court for the District of Colombia) (pdf)


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