A privilege that shields criminals

A privilege that shields criminals

The Saudi Arabian diplomat, who allegedly brutalised two Nepali women and ill-treated a third – they were domestic helps at his residence in Gurgaon – must be brought to justice. As a diplomat, he enjoys immunity from prosecution. Already, the Saudi government has invoked the immunity clause to protect him and claims that the charges are false. It has shifted the accused official to the embassy premises to prevent police from questioning him. It is expected to quietly fly him out of the country, which means that the diplomat will escape facing the courts. While the diplomat does indeed enjoy immunity from prosecution, the charges levelled against him involve grave crimes. He is reported to have raped and sodomised the two women over a period of several months. The victims have alleged being gang-raped by his relatives/ guests as well. It is a matter of serious concern that diplomatic immunity is being misused to shield the perpetrator of a heinous crime.

Article 31 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations bestows on diplomats immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of a country where he is stationed. This provision was put in place to enable diplomats to discharge their functions without pressure from the host country. However, over the decades, this privilege is being misused to protect diplomats and their kin who perpetrate serious crimes including rape, murder, human and narcotics trafficking etc. Consequently, diplomats have felt they can act as they please knowing they can get away unpunished. Several countries, including India, have invoked diplomatic immunity to ‘rescue’ their envoys facing criminal allegations abroad. While they have the legal right to do so, this is morally wrong as they are facilitating criminal actions.

India must tread carefully as its relations with Saudi Arabia are important and expanding. However, it must do its utmost to deliver justice to the victims. This can be done by convincing the Saudi government to waive diplomatic immunity of the envoy. The Saudis have never done so in the past even when such requests were raised by powerful countries like the United States and Britain. India must draw attention to the fact that the crimes committed are grave, which the Saudis themselves take very seriously and punish with executions when committed back home. Besides, the crime involves nationals of a third country – Nepal. Even if Delhi fails to get Saudi cooperation, it must pursue the case assiduously. That will act as a deterrent. It will signal to all diplomats that India will not ignore criminal conduct even by diplomats.
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