India, US Should Simmer Down Diplomat Row - The New Indian Express

India, US Should Simmer Down Diplomat Row

Published: 16th December 2013 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 16th December 2013 01:03 AM

Despite strong protests from New Delhi, the US administration has sought to justify the shockingly shabby treatment meted out to Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York. The deputy consul-general’s arrest on charges of visa fraud and exploitation of her domestic help was humiliating and violative of normal courtesies extended to diplomats. That she was handcuffed before her two small children and taken away smacked of impropriety. Khobragade was released on a bond after pleading not guilty in a court, but the damage had been done. India must now firmly tell the US that unless such incidents are prevented they can evoke retaliatory response against US diplomats as had happened in Pakistan and Iran with disastrous consequences.

The government should revisit the privilege accorded to Indian diplomats and officials serving abroad to take domestic help from India. Given the number of such episodes in recent years and financial implications (both in terms of legal fees to fight the cases and the restitution awarded to complainants in some cases) it may be prudent to pay them better so that they can hire domestic help in the nations they serve in. The US is saying that diplomatic immunity may not hold in Khobragade’s case as non-diplomatic acts by consular officers are not covered by the Vienna Conventions. It contends that unlike diplomats based in the capital, consular officers are not accorded absolute immunity from a host country’s criminal jurisdiction. While there were better ways of dealing with the issue than handcuffing, Indian diplomats too need to be more thorough about what their rights are.

The incident has cast a shadow at a time Indo-US relations were on the upswing. Rather than escalating matters, both sides must resort to backroom negotiations to resolve the issue and take steps to ensure local laws are not violated by Indian diplomats. The US government must also respect the spirit of the Geneva conventions.

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