Waive immunity

It is unfortunate that India has refused to waive the diplomatic immunity of senior diplomat Anil Verma posted in its High Commission in London. Verma is reported to have beaten up his wife severely. When police showed up at the couple’s home, he is reported to have claimed diplomatic immunity.

The British government asked New Delhi to waive his diplomatic immunity so that it could charge him for wife-beating. But Delhi turned down this request. It has recalled Verma. Verma is an IAS official who was on deputation in the London mission and it is likely that he will be sent back to his home cadre. However, he has committed a crime and should face the legal consequences for it. Why is the Indian government letting him off with a rap on the knuckles?

The ministry of external affairs is reportedly ‘deeply embarrassed.’ With the unsavoury incident hitting international headlines, officials were reportedly upset with the wife for going public on the matter. However, the government should be ashamed of its response to the incident. Its refusal to waive diplomatic immunity to a wife-beater is untenable.

There is little ambiguity over the fact that wife beating, whether in the UK or India, is a crime and merits punishment. There is simply no justification to go to Verma’s rescue. He has violated the law and the Indian government is embarrassing itself by allowing a wife-beater to get off the hook. It is undermining the image of its diplomatic corps overseas. It should be making clear to its diplomats that the highest standards of behaviour are expected of them. By letting Verma off lightly, it is encouraging others to misuse diplomatic immunity too.

Diplomats are provided with immunity from legal action in the country they serve so that they are able to carry out their duties effectively without fear of undue pressure from the host country. It is not meant to be used to protect those who engage in domestic violence, smuggling, drunken driving, human trafficking and so on. Yet several diplomats are misusing this privilege.

It is not diplomatic immunity that we must blame for the criminal actions of diplomats but the reluctance of governments to waive this immunity when their diplomats are found violating the law. India’s response has left it looking like it condones wife beating. Stern action against Verma will show that it does not tolerate misuse of diplomatic immunity.

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