Sikh Massacre Lawsuit Hinges on Upcoming Supreme Court Ruling

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Claims over the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India will be put on ice until the Supreme Court decides whether foreign entities can be liable here for atrocities overseas, a federal judge ruled.
     Human Rights Watch estimates that 3,000 Sikhs were killed in “mob attacks with the complicity of senior members of” the Indian National Congress Party after India’s prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.
     After the Indian government refused to prosecute the party and its leader, Kamal Nath, Sikhs for Justice and several individual plaintiffs sought civil damages against them in Manhattan federal court.
     The lawsuit claims the defendants “virtually had complete control over governance of India” and “as the ruling political party of India nationally and locally, was able to pursue a policy of genocide against the Sikhs under color of state law and with the apparent or actual authority of the government of India.”
     Nath escaped liability earlier this year when U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to effect proper service on the politician.
     The claims against the Indian National Congress might unravel for procedural reasons before the merits of the case are ever heard in Manhattan.
     Judge Sweet on Friday dismissed a claim that the party violated the Torture Victim Protection Act because he said the law covers only individuals for torture overseas.
     Though the 2nd Circuit previously found that the Alien Tort Statute does not apply to corporations, the Supreme Court could upend that precedent in the coming months.
     In Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, the 2nd Circuit let the oil giant skate on claims that it conspired with the Nigerian government to brutally suppress dissent against oil exploration.
     Sweet said he would wait for the high court’s finding before deciding whether to dismiss the Alien Tort Statute claim against the Indian National Congress.
     In a powerful dissent to Kiobel, Judge Pierre Leval warned that dire consequences could develop from the court’s precedent.
     “The new rule offers to unscrupulous businesses advantages of incorporation never before dreamed of,” Leval wrote. “So long as they incorporate (or act in the form of a trust), businesses will now be free to trade in or exploit slaves, employ mercenary armies to do dirty work for despots, perform genocides or operate torture prisons for a despot’s political opponents, or engage in piracy – all without civil liability to victims. By adopting the corporate form, such an enterprise could have hired itself out to operate Nazi extermination camps or the torture chambers of Argentina’s dirty war, immune from civil liability to its victims.”
     The Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to hear the case has captured wide interest. Roughly 70 businesses, organizations, politicians, professors and scholars have filed amicus, or friend-of-the-court, briefs to guide proceedings.
     Its fate will determine the viability of the Sikh’s claims.
     “Accordingly, the plaintiffs’ ATS claim against the INC is stayed pending the Supreme Court’s Kiobel decision,” Sweet’s 82-page order states.

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