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Modiís US visit; US court issues summons against Modi in 2002 Gujarat riots case

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New York (Sept 26, 2014): Ahead of Modi’s arrival in the US, a federal court here has issued summons against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his alleged role in the 2002 communal violence in Gujarat when he was the state’s chief minister.

The summons against Modi were issued Thursday by the US Federal Court for the Southern District of New York following a lawsuit filed by the New York-based American Justice Center (AJC), a non-profit human rights organisation, along with two survivors of the violence.

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.

The lawsuit against Modi has been filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA).

Seeking compensatory and punitive damages, the 28-page complaint charges 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 Tort Case against Prime Minister Modi is an unequivocal message to human rights abusers everywhere,” said John Bradley, director at the AJC.

“Time and place and the trappings of power will not be an impediment to justice,” he said.

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 Friday 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 urpatwant Singh Pannun, legal advisor, American Justice Center (AJC).