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Devyani’s full shield that India forgot to tell US

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  • Published 27.12.13
The request form that suggests Devyani Khobragade was given accreditation as a member of a delegation to the UN’s temporary meetings — in this case the main part of the regular session of the UN General Assembly — from August 26, 2013, to December 31, 2013. Khobragade was arrested months after this UN accreditation, which Indian officials say gives her full diplomatic immunity, was issued

New Delhi, Dec. 26: Diplomat Devyani Khobragade enjoyed full immunity from arrest since August itself as an adviser to India’s United Nations mission, New Delhi today claimed, revealing what it insists is fresh evidence that US authorities breached international law in arresting her two weeks back.

Khobragade, who was deputy consul general of India’s consulate general in New York, was also accredited by the UN as a political adviser at India’s permanent mission to the global body at the time of her arrest by US marshals on December 12, senior Indian officials said today.

They cited an electronic accreditation receipt from the UN that confirms this additional role from August 26 to December 31, 2013, and argued that gave Khobragade inviolable immunity from arrest.

But the officials accepted that they had not informed the US state department — either directly or through the US embassy here — about Khobragade’s additional role at India’s UN mission before her arrest.

And the timing of the fresh revelation, they acknowledged, is aimed at publicly picking loopholes in the American prosecution’s arguments amid growing concerns here that the US may not drop charges against Khobragade as India has demanded.

“We still hope the Americans drop the charges,” a senior official said. “But if the case goes to court, all this will come before the judge and we are confident the judge will see that the case is far from watertight as the prosecution is trying to make it appear.”

India has moved Khobragade to a full-time assignment at its permanent mission to the UN in New York after her arrest, because both New Delhi and Washington agree that diplomats posted at their nation’s office at the global body enjoy full diplomatic immunity from arrest.

The move followed a clear difference in interpretation of immunity rules for their diplomats posted at consulates in the other’s country.

When Khobragade was arrested, India argued she enjoyed full immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations as it provided to all American diplomats at the four US consulates in India — Calcutta, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad.

But the US state department countered by claiming she only enjoyed limited immunity under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations as she was only a deputy consul-general. The consular relations pact allows arrests for “grave” crimes if committed by a diplomat outside her work.

India is now arguing that Khobragade enjoyed the immunity she now gets as a diplomat at the UN mission already at the time of her arrest, and that her full-time shift there is only to safeguard against any “interpretation-based adventurism” by US authorities.

The 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations specifies “immunities from personal arrest or detention or from seizure of their personal baggage” for all representatives of members to the UN.

The same pact also describes “representatives” as including “advisers” to delegations — the role India says Khobragade was additionally performing since August 26.

Indian officials are also pointing to a document published by the bureau of diplomatic security of the US department of state — the very team that arrested Khobragade — to argue why her temporary, additional role at the UN gave her full immunity.

The bureau’s July 2011 manual on diplomatic and consular immunity to visiting diplomats states that “short-term official visitors from other states to the United Nations or other international conferences convened by the United Nations may enjoy full diplomatic immunity equivalent to that afforded to diplomatic agents.”

If the US state department had communicated with India about the possibility of pressing charges against Khobragade, New Delhi would have informed the US about these UN-related immunities, officials said.

“There was no communication from them on this case from September, and we had no clue they were planning an arrest,” an official said.

But the lack of communication between September and Khobragade’s arrest in December also points to a deeper breakdown in dialogue between nations that over the past few years have repeatedly referred to their alliance as a “defining partnership” of the 21st century.

Two weeks after Khobragade’s arrest and subsequent release on a $250,000 bail bond, the continuing perception warfare the nations are waging suggests they are some distance yet from a resolution. “This,” an official said, “is the state of affairs you end up in when diplomatic communication breaks down.”