| (Top) Foreign minister Natwar Singh shakes hands with Czech President Vaclav Klaus in New Delhi on Monday. (Below) He leaves the Prime Minister’s office after losing his portfolio. (AFP, PTI)
New York, Nov. 7: Special envoy Virendra Dayal may have been mandated by the government to collect details of Indian involvement in the oil-for-food scandal, but he will have no locus standi here at the UN.
When Dayal arrives here to get information about Natwar Singh, the Congress Party or other Indian entities named in the Volcker report, he will be hamstrung by two problems.
First, the world body zealously guards its independence, its integrity and its immunity from national laws and requirements of member states. The UN considers itself above any national law to ensure that it is truly an international organisation.
Earlier this year, the UN went to court in the US to prevent documents relating to the oil-for-food programme from being turned over to US Congress, which was conducting its own investigations into the scandal.
Paul Volcker, the chairman of the UN-appointed committee that investigated the relief programme for Iraq, repeatedly sought the intervention of American courts not only to prevent documents from reaching US Congress, but also to restrain Robert Parton, a former FBI agent who was on the staff of his committee, from testifying before Congress.
Dayal’s problems here will be compounded by the fact that Volcker and the UN secretariat are not alone in this stand, which enjoys the full backing of the Volcker committee.
In fact, one member of the Volcker committee, Richard Goldstone, who was a judge in South Africa’s Constitutional Court, gave the legal opinion that co-operation with Capitol Hill committees by anyone associated with the inquiry would violate the UN inquiry’s immunity and confidentiality agreement.
The second problem that Dayal will face is his authority to deal with the UN.
The UN conducts business with India’s permanent representative because he has formally presented his credentials to secretary-general Kofi Annan. Other Indian diplomats and journalists deal with the UN after they are formally accredited to the world body.
When an Indian minister goes to the UN, he does so as a formal member of a national delegation. Dayal is none of these.
Entry to the UN headquarters here, especially after September 11, 2001, is severely restricted to accredited delegates, journalists and members of non-governmental organisations with colour-coded passes.
Dayal may be able to go to the UN with Indian diplomats for a couple of meetings, but if he is to fulfil his mandate as a special envoy, he will have to pretend to be something which he is not.
Therefore, at every stage, he will be at the mercy of India’s permanent representative Nirupam Sen and his fellow diplomats to even look at a single piece of paper from the world body.
Sen told The Telegraph today that the UN’s under-secretary general dealing with the oil-for-food investigation had told him that his office has no documents relating to the inquiry. Although mandated by the UN, the Volcker panel’s is an independent inquiry and, therefore, all papers remain with the committee.
New Delhi may have erred in concluding that Dayal could use his contacts as a long-time UN official in having his way at the UN. When he arrives here, Dayal may find that it is the Volcker committee and its staff ' many whom have nothing to do with the UN ' that he will have to deal with.
For the time being at least, Dayal’s ability to fulfil his task appears dependent entirely on Volcker’s goodwill.