Canada owes the right to seek the intervention of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) if New Delhi does not cooperate in the investigation of the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist leader who was shot dead by masked gunmen in Surrey, British Columbia, in June.
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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday that his government had “credible allegations” of a link between “agents of the government of India” and the assassination of Nijjar, who was an outspoken supporter of the creation of a separate Sikh homeland known as Khalistan.
Trudeau said Canada was not trying to “provoke” India or “escalate” the situation, but was “simply laying out the facts.” He said his government would “follow the evidence and make sure that the work is done to hold people to account.”
Canada’s foreign affairs minister Melanie Joly said that Ottawa had expelled an Indian diplomat, whom she described as the head of the Indian intelligence agency in the country, as a “consequence.”
Nijjar’s death in June shocked the Sikh community in Canada, one of the largest outside India with more than 770,000 members. Following Trudeau’s comments, two Sikh community groups in Canada – the British Columbia Gurdwaras Council and Ontario Gurdwaras Committee – urged the Canadian government to “immediately suspend all intelligence, investigative and prosecutorial cooperation with India.”
“Canada’s comprehensive response must reflect the gravity of India’s role in the premeditated murder of a Sikh dissident living in Canada,” the groups added in a joint statement.
If Canada’s move to take India to the ICJ could mark an unprecedented escalation in the bilateral relations between the two countries, which have been strained over the issue of Sikh separatism for decades.
The ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations and settles legal disputes between states. It can also give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized UN organs and specialized agencies.
The ICJ has jurisdiction over cases involving genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, aggression, territorial disputes, maritime disputes, treaty violations, diplomatic relations, and human rights.
However, the ICJ can only hear cases if both parties agree to submit to its jurisdiction. If one party refuses to cooperate or comply with its rulings, the ICJ has no power to enforce them.
Therefore, it remains unclear whether India would accept Canada’s challenge to take the Nijjar case to the ICJ or whether it would ignore it and risk further isolating itself from the international community.