The US is a serial offender of international laws and does not treat nationals of other countries at par with its citizen. It is for the first time met with a strong Indian hand on the issue of diplomatic immunity.
In the United States, there are three kinds of arrests. First is surrender. It is a procedure where the person is called for interrogation and a settlement it reached. Second is arrest at home where the person is arrested somewhere private or in the privacy of his home. Third kind of arrest, which is worst, is desert arrest where the person is publicly arrested.
Indian consulate in US Devyani Khobragadhe faced the third degree arrest.
Khobragade, an IFS offcer currently posted as Deputy Consul General for Political, Economic, Commercial and Women’s Affairs in US, was arrested by the New York police on Thursday. The US authorities accused her of helping the Indian nanny, whom she had hired in 2012 for working as a babysitter and domestic help, in submitting fake documents to the US State Department saying that she was paying $4,500 per month, when in reality, the nanny or the domestic help got only $573 a month.
Law enforcement authorities in New York say Khobragade “allegedly caused a materially false and fraudulent document to be presented, and materially false and fraudulent statements to be made, to the US Department of State in support of a visa application for an Indian national employed as a babysitter and housekeeper at her home in New York”.
She was arrested when she went to drop off her daughter to school and then strip searched by the US marshals. A cavity search was done on her too which was followed by her detention along with criminals and sex workers.
Khobraghade was released only after a bond of USD 25,000 after pleading not guilty.
Interestingly, the allegation is “allegedly caused a materially false and fraudulent document to be presented…” So it is the maid that presented the fraudulent documents. Also, the document in question is the employment contract and the allegations are that contract was violated. That makes the case a civil case and not criminal. Which could also mean that a civil case is wrongly being put as visa fraud by the US.
While the accusation is a matter of investigation, the way US reacted undoubtedly has serious implementations. By arresting Khobraghade, the US surpassed the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) agreed as international law which guarantees immunity from the host country’s laws only with respect to acts related to consular duties.
The country has been at it time and again with India. It had frisked the former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam on his arrival at New York’s JFK airport. Former minister George Fernandis too was searched by the US police. Daughter of an Indian diplomat was arrested and humiliated publicly on false charges.
He US has been calling it an inadvertent action but remains defiant on its stand. But the fact that the diplomats were given their VISA only after a thorough investigation nullifies US claims. If looked at from this point of view, the matter seems a more calculated and deliberate one. Also, the Indian diplomat’s salary was lower that what the nanny was expected to be paid, which makes it a matter which could have been discussed well within the ambit of the Indo-US good relations.
The case exposes US hypocrisy further where the Indian or any other countries’ national is not treated at par with any other citizen under the US law. It speaks of being the greatest democracy and equality but it proves to be arrogant and believing in the theory of ‘some being more than equal’.
There have been instances where the US government took decisions which were not only a severe blow to the Vienna Convention but also showed its wrong attitude towards the international relations with the developing or under-developed countries. The history is replete with such cases where the US bent law for thugs and thieves even.
Teo Peter, one of Romania’s best known and most beloved rock musicians, was killed on December 4, 2004, in a Bucharest car accident involving the taxi he was riding in and the official Embassy vehicle being driven in the early morning hours by former Bucharest Marine detachment commander Staff Sgt. Christopher Van Goethem. The CIA and the US government helped Goethem leave the country within hours of the incident overlooking the Romanian law.
A military courts martial concluded in January 2006 that while Gowthem was guilty of making false statements and obstructing justice, he was not guilty of the more serious negligent homicide charge. The jury, somewhat unexpectedly, limited the Marine’s punishment to an official letter of reprimand.
Michael Peter Fay was arrested in Singapore on the accounts of theft and vandalism and was ordered caning as the routine court sentence. But the then US president Bill Clinton immediately jumped for his help calling a press coneference limiting his sentence later on.
The more heinous of all was killing of two Pakistanis by CIA agent Raymond Allen Davis. He was not even a diplomat but the US lied to the faces of the world saying that Davis was a consulate employee. He was released by Pakistan on a payment of USD 2.4 million in blood money to the family of deceased but only after the US threatened to cut all the aids for Pakistan.
The US, which considers itself a superpower, has been doing it in front of the world in Afghanistan where its army men urinated on war prisoners and civilians.
This time, India has taken a hard stand over the issue. Although it comes a little too late but India acted quick in Khobragadhe’s case. India set in motion an array of retaliatory steps against U.S. diplomats in the absence of contriteness over maltreatment of Khobraghade.
The government asked all U.S. consular officers to turn in their identity cards and the entire American diplomatic corps their airport passes while senior Congress leaders snubbed a visiting U.S. Congressional delegation for the second straight day by refusing to meet them.
The government sought to turn the screws further by ordering Delhi Police to remove concrete barricades on public land and roads around the U.S. Embassy, sought salary details and bank accounts of all Indian staff employed at the missions and stopped all import clearances for the U.S. Embassy, especially for liquor.
The directive asking all U.S. consular officers posted in the country to turn in their identity cards means the government is trying to restore parity with its diplomats posted as consular officers in the U.S. Khobragade is also a consular officer and under U.S. laws, this post does not entitle them to full privileges, a sore issue with India which has been raised several times but not very forcefully.
On Tuesday, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde called her treatment unacceptable. He cancelled his meeting with the senior US Congressional delegation and his office said he was busy in parliament, but media reports in India described it as a “snub” to the US. On Monday, the Lok Sabha speaker, Meira Kumar, and National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon had also refused to meet the Congressional officials. Menon had said that Khobragade’s treatment was “despicable and barbaric”.
The governing Congress party Vice-President, Rahul Gandhi, and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi too refused to meet the delegations in protest. “Refused to meet the visiting USA delegation in solidarity with our nation, protesting ill-treatment meted to our lady diplomat in USA,” Modi had tweeted.
The Indian government holds the line of the thought that these reciprocal steps would convey a clear message that this kind of treatment of a diplomat is unacceptable. South Block has already hinted at several options such as examining the salary structures of Indian employees in U.S. missions for discrepancies such as defaults on social security payments.
It is just a matter to see whether the US shuns its arrogance accepting the gravity of the matter and arrives at a creative solution or remains defiant as always.