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Sikhs for Justice v. Singh

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

August 19, 2014

SIKHS FOR JUSTICE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MANMOHAN SINGH, Defendant

Sikhs For Justice, on behalf of deceased and tortured members of Sikhs community, Plaintiff, Pro se, New York , NY.

Inderjit Singh, an individual, national and citizen of India on his own behalf and on behalf of members of his family, Plaintiff, Pro se, New York , NY.

John Doe, Un-named victims of torture, Plaintiff, Pro se.

For United States of America, Interested Party: Michelle Renee Bennett, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Civil Division, Washington , DC.

Page 191

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge.

Defendant Manmohan Singh was, until very recently, the Prime Minister of India.

Page 192

Plaintiffs Sikhs for Justice, a non-profit organization, and Inderjit Singh have brought this suit alleging that the former Prime Minister tortured and killed Indian Sikhs during his time at the helm of that country's government and, before then, as Finance Minister. The United States, a non-party in this litigation, has filed a Suggestion of Immunity claiming that Singh, as the sitting Prime Minister, is entitled to head-of-state immunity. Although at the time of that filing, Singh was indeed Prime Minister, he left office three weeks later. Plaintiffs, consequently, counter that Singh is no longer entitled to such immunity. They are only partly correct. Although he is no longer a head of state, Singh is entitled to residual immunity for acts taken in his official capacity as Prime Minister. Because such residual immunity does not cover actions Singh pursued before taking office, however, the allegations stemming from his time as Finance Minister survive.

I. Background

In September of 2013, Plaintiffs, on their own behalf and on behalf of unnamed Sikhs, filed this suit against Manmohan Singh, who was, at the time, Prime Minister of India. See ECF No. 1 (Complaint). Singh served as India's Prime Minister from 2004-2014. See Compl., ¶ ¶ 19, 21. Prior to that stint, he served as Finance Minister from 1991-1996. See id., ¶ 21. Plaintiffs allege that over the past thirty years, the Indian government has engaged in a pattern of oppression and violence against the Sikh religious minority. See id., ¶ ¶ 41-48. They predicate their suit on Defendant Singh's alleged personal culpability for these acts during his time as Finance Minister and later as Prime Minister. See id., ¶ ¶ 19-30.

After the Complaint was filed, the case languished for seven months while Plaintiffs struggled to effect service upon Defendant. See, e.g., ECF No. 3 (Feb. 20, 2014, Motion for Extension of Time to Effect Service); ECF No. 6 (April 14, 2014, Motion for Extension of Time to Effect Service). In the meantime, the United States weighed in on the suit on May 2, 2014, submitting a Suggestion of Immunity to this Court on Defendant's behalf. See ECF No. 7.

The same day that the Government filed its Suggestion of Immunity, the Court ordered Plaintiffs to lodge their opposition, if any, by May 23. See Minute Order (May 2, 2014). The deadline passed with no word from Plaintiffs, but because they were litigating pro se and there appeared to be some difficulties with the mail, see ECF Nos. 8, 9 (Mail Returned as Undeliverable Notices), the Court allowed for an extension of time. See Minute Order (June 5, 2014).

This delay turned out to be a boon for Plaintiffs: On May 16, while the Court awaited their Opposition, the Indian Election Commission announced its 2014 election results, revealing that then-Prime Minister Singh's party had lost the election. See Manmohan Singh Resigns Bringing to an End His 10-year Tenure, Times of India, May 17, 2014, http://goo.gl/wN5w1I. The next day he announced his resignation. See id. His successor, Narendra Modi, was sworn in on May 26, and Singh's term as Prime Minister officially ended. See Modi Sworn in as India's Prime Minister, Al-Jazeera, May 26, 2014, http://goo.gl/DWYMRQ. Seizing on that news, on June 17, Plaintiffs lodged a brief Opposition, see ECF No. 10, arguing that the intervening political events had ...


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