A senior White House offi- cial September 26 said the summons issued against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
by a New York court on the eve of his
arrival in the United States, for his
alleged role in the 2002 communal
riots in Gujarat, would have no effect as
he enjoys full immunity as a visiting
head of State.
The official, when asked about the
summons against Modi issued by the
US Federal Court for the Southern
District of New York on a civil lawsuit
filed by the New York-based
American Justice Centre, a nonprofit
human rights organization, along
with two survivors of the post-Godhra
violence, said, "We are aware from
press reports of the lawsuit filed
against Prime Minister Modi yesterday in the Federal District Court of
"While we cannot comment specifically on this lawsuit, I can tell you that
as a general legal principle, sitting
heads of government enjoy immunity
from suits in American courts," the official said.
"Sitting heads of government also
enjoy personal inviolability while in
the United States," the official added,
"which means they cannot be personally handed over or delivered papers or
summons to begin the process of a lawsuit."
"In addition, as a matter of treaty, heads of delegations to the United Nations General Assembly, enjoy
immunity while in New York to attend the UN events,"
The court said Modi has to respond to the summons
within 21 days after it is served on him.
Prime Minister Modi was to leave for New Delhi
September 30 from Washington, DC after he concluded his five-day US visit, which was to include participating in the UN General Assembly sessions, an
address to the Indian-American community at
Madison Square Garden, a White House summit with
President Obama, and several other events, which are
said to number over 35.
The lawsuit against Modi has been filed under the
Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim
Protection Act. 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
"The Tort case against Prime Minister Modi is an
unequivocal message to human rights abusers every-
where," 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 the Alien
Tort Statute, 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.
Another official said Modi's fasting would be absolutely no impediment to the programme both at the White
House and State Department, and that arrangements
had been made accordingly.
"In terms of the fasting, this is something that we have
taken on as well with all visitors to the White House,"
the official said. "We accommodate the interests and
needs of any leader who visits the White House and is
participating in White House meetings."
"I don't think this presents us, with any special obstacles and I believe everything will go forward as planned,"
the official added.
"Both we and the Indians have agreed that this
should not be a distraction or change any of the things
we want to take on during the visit," added another
White House official.
"It is simply a practice by the prime minister that we
will work to accommodate, but all the events will go forward and we look forward to accepting the full range of
business through these events," the official added.
New York court summons
on Modi has no effect:
As a head of government Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoys immunity from cases in American courts, says a senior White House official. Aziz Haniffa reports
"Sitting heads of
government also enjoy
while in the United
States, which means
they cannot be
over or delivered papers
or summons to begin the
process of a lawsuit."
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves for New York, in New Delhi, September 25. P R