Thursday, September 24, 2015

Diplomatic Immunity: License for Crime? - Mohshin Habib

by Mohshin Habib

"Saudi Arabia has always protected its diplomats, despite what one official termed a 'disproportionately high' number of cases involving Saudi officials in heinous crimes." – The Hindu newspaper.

The Indian government is as embarrassed as its citizens are outraged by a crime committed by Saudi a diplomat, who will enjoy not only diplomatic immunity, but also blind support from his superiors.

Majed Hassan Ashoor, First Secretary at the Saudi Arabian embassy in New Delhi, has been accused of raping two Nepalese maids, a woman of 50 and her 25-year-old daughter. The women were rescued by the Indian police from diplomat's apartment in Gurgaon, on the outskirts of India's capital.

"There were days when seven to eight men—all from Saudi Arabia—would take turns in raping us," the victims said.
"If we resisted, the diplomat and his family would threaten to kill us and dispose of our bodies in the sewer. We were made to do all the household chores from morning until late in the night, and then subjected to sexual assault at the end of the day. We were not given food. Sometimes we only survived on biscuits, bread and watery tea. We were never allowed to step out of the house."
The victims, in a written complaint stated, "After we returned in May, he asked us to message [sic] him... he then raped us and forced us to have unnatural sex and oral sex. After that he offered us to his friends regularly."

The women were in captivity for more than three months. Eventually they were rescued with the help of an NGO, Maiti Nepal India, which was informed about the crimes by another woman who had been employed as a domestic help at the diplomat's residence, but who managed to run away after three days. The NGO then informed the Nepalese Embassy, which wrote to India's Ministry of External Affairs and Gurgaon police. On September 7, a police team raided Ashoor's residence and rescued the women.

The diplomat's wife and others have also been accused of various offenses, but so far, no arrests have been made.

The victims underwent medical examinations at the Gurgaon General Hospital. Hospital sources reported that the younger of the two victims had developed an infection in her anus and pelvic area. Her vagina was found to be severely bruised and damaged. The results of the examinations, sources said, corroborated most of the claims made by the victims.

Indian authorities have asked the Saudi Ambassador in Delhi to cooperate in the ongoing police investigation. However, instead of cooperating, the Saudi Embassy has dismissed the charges by saying that they are "completely false."

Riyadh has so far denied any wrongdoing by its diplomats. Reuters reports that the Saudi Embassy has accused Gurgaon Police of breaking international conventions by raiding a diplomatic property, and is pressing India to drop the case. According to a New York Times report of September 17, Ashoor has already left India.

Indian women protest near the Saudi Arabian embassy in New Delhi on September 10, 2015, following the rescue of two Nepalese women raped by a Saudi diplomat stationed in the city.

Human Rights Watch said, "We have seen similar crimes occurring in Saudi Arabia and the Saudis have not shown any great enthusiasm for prosecuting them."

One of India's most popular English newspapers, The Hindu, wrote in an editorial, "Saudi Arabia has always protected its diplomats, despite what one official termed a 'disproportionately high' number of cases involving Saudi officials in heinous crimes."

It should be noted here that the Article 29 of the Vienna Convention states that "the person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. The receiving state shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent attack on his person, freedom or dignity."

Article 30(1) states, "The private residence of a diplomatic agent shall enjoy the same inviolability and protection as the premises of the mission."

Article 31(1) states, "A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State. He shall also enjoy immunity from its civil and administrative jurisdiction, except in the case of: a) A real action relating to private immovable property situated in the territory of the receiving State, unless he holds it on behalf of the sending State for the purposes of the mission, b) An action relating to succession in which the diplomatic agent is involved as executor, administrator, heir or legatee as a private person and not on behalf of the sending State, c) An action relating to any professional and commercial activity exercised by the diplomatic agent in the receiving State outside his official functions."

India is now in an awkward situation. Saudi Arabia is India's largest crude oil supplier. About three million Indians work in Saudi Arabia. In addition, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is looking for much needed investment from Saudi Arabia, and Modi plans to visit Saudi Arabia later this year. On the other hand, a large number of Indians and neighboring Nepalese want to see the accused brought to justice, either by the Indian government or by Riyadh.

The Times of India wrote on September 13
"If the Saudis send the diplomat home, it would amount to an admission of guilt, and weaken the line they have taken that the first secretary is innocent and is being framed. India, for its part, could provide the Saudis with a face-saving device by expelling the diplomat. That would allow the Saudis to stick to their line that their man was innocent, but that might open up the possibility of a retaliatory expulsion of an Indian diplomat from Riyadh.
India does not want relations between the two countries to suffer, especially with the millions of Indian laborers in Saudi Arabia, now seemingly as effective hostages.

In 2011, a case in the U.K. involving two women held in conditions like 'slavery' by a Saudi diplomat in London caused an international uproar after details emerged of their severe ill-treatment.

Yet another case in 2013 involved two women held as 'domestic slaves' for months by the Saudi defense attaché and his wife in the United States. In both the cases, the diplomats were not prosecuted, thanks to diplomatic immunity.

Perhaps it is time to revoke the concept of diplomatic immunity; at every level internationally, it is all too often a license for crime.

Mohshin Habib


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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