Sunday, 13 September 2015

Diplomatic Immunity

What is diplomatic immunity?
  • It’s the privilege of exemption from certain laws and taxes granted to diplomats by host country. 
Why is diplomatic immunity given?
  • It was framed so that diplomats can function without fear, threat or intimidation from the host country. 
Is the any related to this?
  • Two conventions, k/a Vienna Conventions — 
    • the Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961, and 
    • the Convention on Consular Relations, 1963. 
      • They have been ratified by 187 countries, including India. Which means, it is a law under the Indian legal framework and cannot be violated.
What is the extent of their immunity?
  • As per 1961 convention the immunity enjoyed by a diplomat posted in the embassy is “inviolable”. 
  •   The diplomat cannot be arrested or detained and his house will have the same inviolability and protection as the embassy. 
    • Saudi Arabia says that this rule has been violated by Gurgaon police by entering the home. 
  • It is possible for the diplomat’s home country to waive immunity but this can happen only when the individual has committed a ‘serious crime’, unconnected with their diplomatic role or has witnessed such a crime. 
    •  Alternatively, the home country may prosecute the individual.
Is this immunity the same for all diplomats?
  • No. The Vienna Convention classifies diplomats according to their posting in the embassy, consular or international organisations such as the UN. 
    • A nation has only one embassy per foreign country, usually in the capital, but may have multiple consulate offices, generally in locations where many of its citizens live or visit. 
    • Diplomats posted in an embassy get immunity, along with his or her family members. 
    • While diplomats posted in consulates too get immunity, they can be prosecuted in case of serious crimes, that is, when a warrant is issued. Besides, their families don’t share that immunity.
Isn’t that what happened in the Devyani case?
  • Yes. In December 2013, Devyani Khobragade, a deputy consul general at the Indian consulate in New York, had been arrested and reportedly strip-searched for alleged visa fraud on grounds that she did not honour the commitment to pay minimum wages as per US rules to her domestic help. 
    • Since she was a diplomat in the consulate, she was governed under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations which provided her limited immunity. 
    • But the Indian government side-stepped this rule by transferring Khobragade to the Permanent Mission of India to the UN, which has the status of an embassy. 
    • That move gave her full diplomatic immunity as the Permanent Mission is covered by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations besides other UN rules. 
    • She was later moved to Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi. 
    • The issue had escalated into a full-blown diplomatic spat between the US and India, which retaliated by downgrading privileges of certain category of US diplomats, among other steps.
Have there been other instances of Indian diplomats getting into trouble?
  • In June this year, India’s high commissioner to New Zealand, Ravi Thapar, was recalled over allegations that his wife had assaulted their chef. Police were denied permission to interview both Thapar and his wife Sharmila because of the immunity they enjoyed. He was recalled to India. 
  • In January 2011, Anil Verma  was transferred to India on allegations that he had assaulted his wife. He too escaped prosecution
  • Devyani case.
What are the other cases of diplomats invoking immunity?
  • In May 2003, Mansur Ali, the 24-year-old son of then Senegalese ambassador to India Ahmed el Mansour Diop, was accused of murdering his driver Dilwar Singh, but the Delhi police could not pick him up for questioning as he had diplomatic immunity. The ambassador and his son soon left India. 
  • In 2011, Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor in Pakistan, was arrested after he shot dead two armed men on a Lahore street. The US claimed immunity since he had been admitted into Pakistan on a diplomatic passport. He was later let off by a Pakistani court after he coughed up ‘blood money’ to the relatives of the men he killed.
Should it be amended?
  • What the shocking incident most underlines, though, is that it is time the international community revisits the 1960s’ Vienna Conventions to redraw the boundaries of immunity. The conventions, deemed necessary to enable diplomats to carry out their roles without obstruction in the host country during the Cold War, should not be misused in the present day as a protective cover for heinous crimes.
  • Citing the rules of the International Human Rights Convention, under the Declaration of Elimination of Violence against Women, there should some exceptions where diplomats can be prosecuted in such cases.

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