The Treatment meted out to Devyani Khobragade 17 Dec, 2013

From the desk of Arun Jaitley

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The Treatment meted out to Devyani Khobragade

 

The arrest and the treatment meted out to the Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade deserves to be condemned. The United States unilateralism in narrowing down the scope of diplomatic immunity should not be accepted by India. Article 31 of the Vienna Convention clearly provides that a diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from criminal action of the receiving State. The only exceptions mentioned in the Vienna Convention are that if there is a real action regarding the private immovable property located in the receiving State, the action relating to succession in which the diplomatic agent is involved or an action relating to any professional or commercial activity exercised by the diplomatic agent. These exceptions are only in relation to civil and administrative jurisdictions. With regard to criminal action again there is no exception which the Vienna Convention has carved out. Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations also provides that Consular officers shall not be liable to arrest or detention pending trial, except in the case of a grave crime and pursuant to a decision by the competent judicial authority. The Convention clearly states that Consular officers shall not be committed to prison or be liable to any other form of restriction on their personal freedom unless there is a judicial verdict. It goes further to state that if criminal proceedings are instituted against a consular officer, he must appear before the competent authorities but nevertheless, the proceedings shall be conducted with the respect due to him by reason of his official position. Even though the Covenants of the Vienna Conventions  are clear with regard to the extent of immunity available to a foreign diplomats and consular officials, the US State Department  has displayed scant regard for the established conventions. If the arrest of the diplomat raises serious questions with regard to the infringement of Vienna Conventions, the subsequent treatment meted out to her — the search, keeping the lady diplomat in custody with hardened criminals displays the cavalier manner in which the Americans are treating this issue. 

Diplomacy operates on the principle of reciprocity. In the past when an elected representative from India has been denied US visa, the Government of India have taken it lying down because of its own sense of insecurity vis-a vis the concerned elected representative. This has given to the Americans a signal that they can act unilaterally without attracting an adverse reaction from India. The case of Devyani Khobragade is a pointer to the fact that Government of India must now  and in future act on the principle of reciprocity. If there is any infringement of any local law, be it even a municipal or State laws, by an American diplomat/ consular official, we must waive off the immunity under the Vienna Conventions. Similarly, if we find the conduct of any US elected representative unacceptable in our subjective opinion, we must reserve the right to reject his or her visa application.

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