UN agency backs India, says Devyani had full immunity

Office of legal affairs opinion supports New Delhi's argument

UN agency backs India, says Devyani had full immunity

 A United Nations agency has endorsed New Delhi’s claim that Indian Foreign Service officer Devyani Khobragade enjoyed full diplomatic immunity when she was arrested by the United States law-enforcement officials in New York on December 12 last.

The opinion of the UN Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) supports New Delhi’s argument that Khobragade enjoyed full immunity at the time of her arrest as she had already been accredited to the international organisation as a representative of India since August last year.

Khobragade’s lawyers have cited the UN OLA’s view in a court in Manhattan to counter the recent move by Preet Bharara, the US district attorney for southern district of New York, to dismiss New Delhi’s claim.

Stephen Mathias, UN Assistant Secretary General for Legal Affairs, on January 27 last wrote to India’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the international organisation conveying the UN OLA’s views on the issue.

He wrote that representatives of all members of the United Nations “to the principal and subsidiary organs of the United Nations and to conferences convened by the United Nations, while exercising their functions and during their journey to and from the place of meeting, enjoy the privileges and immunities set forth in Section 11 of the General Convention”.

The General Convention or the “Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations” was adopted by the international organisation in February 13, 1946.
Khobragade was posted at the Consulate General of India in New York.

But she was also designated as adviser to the Permanent Mission of India to the UN ahead of the United Nations General Assembly last September in view of the additional workload due to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the international organisation for the annual meet.

She had been accredited by the international organisation as an adviser to the Permanent Mission of India to the UN on August 26 and the accreditation was valid till December 31.

According to the Section 11 A of the Article 4 of the “General Convention”, all representatives of the members of the international organisation enjoy “immunities from personal arrest or detention and from the seizure of their personal baggage”.

The Section 16 of the convention made it clear that the “representatives” of a country should include all delegates, deputy delegates, advisors, technical experts and secretaries of the delegations.

The US claimed that Khobragade, being a consular official, only enjoyed limited immunity, which was not violated by her arrest for committing visa fraud and allegedly underpaying her domestic help. But New Delhi argued that she had full immunity cover as her accreditation to the UN was valid when she was arrested.

Bharara last week urged the US court of the Southern District of New York to deny a motion filed by Khobragade’s lawyer Daniel N Arshack for dismissing the January 9 indictment against her, as the UN accreditation had granted the IFS officer immunity from arrest and prosecution.

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