India reiterates objections to diplomat’s treatment

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Washington, December 15:  Underscoring its objection to the way in which a senior Indian diplomat was treated on Thursday in New York, including her arrest as she exited her daughter’s school, the Charge d’Affaires of the Indian Embassy here has reiterated India’s “strong demarche” in meetings with senior officials of the U.S. State Department.

On Friday the Charge d’Affairs Ambassador Taranjit Sandhu and the Joint Secretary for the Americas Vikram Doraiswami met with Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Nisha Biswal and others on the U.S. side, and conveyed their view that Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade who is in the U.S. “in pursuance of her duties… is entitled to the courtesy due to a diplomat in the country of her work.”

The embassy also emphasised that Ms. Khobragade is a young mother of two small children, and as India’s Secretary Sujatha Singh said to U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell, the “Government of India is shocked and appalled at the manner in which she has been humiliated by the U.S. authorities.”

Meanwhile speaking to The Hindu Ms. Khobragade’s attorney Daniel Arshack said that when he saw Ms. Khobragade at the courthouse she was already in handcuffs and that between her arrest at around 10 a.m. and her arrival there at 4 p.m. she was lodged in a “secure holding cell.”

Mr. Arshack also explained that Ms. Khobragade had been released on an unsecured bond, which meant that the $250,000 value of the bond would not have to be paid unless she failed to return to court as required. The three co-signers of the bond are liable.

He added that she had been “treated incredibly shabbily” and was not presented with the opportunity to surrender, as would have been expected in the case. However, he said, “We are confident of her complete vindication.”

Although officials on both sides refrained from commenting directly upon the legality of the arrest given that the case was pending in courts of law, the Indian side focused on the message that “this kind of treatment to one of our diplomats is absolutely unacceptable.”

Additionally concern appeared to stem from the fact that the High Court in New Delhi had issued both an arrest warrant for the former domestic assistant of Ms. Khobragade, Indian national Sangeeta Richard, as well as an injunction against the latter to undertake any legal proceedings against Ms. Khobragade, but there has been no indication that the U.S. was accepting the High Court’s position on these matters.

Contrarily, the Department of Justice clarified to The Hindu, the U.S. government is the plaintiff in the case against Ms. Khobragade. Additionally, as per the conditions of her bail, the DOJ said via email, Ms. Khobragade had been ordered to pay a $250,000 recognisance bond, surrender travel documentation, and submit herself to several other restrictions in terms of employment-change declarations and any form of contact with Ms. Richard and her family.

While the State Department did not directly comment on the arrest of Ms. Khobragade, it clarified that there was a legal distinction between diplomatic and consular immunity against such arrest, and only the latter applied to Ms. Khobragade.

In response to questions from The Hindu it was explained that a consular officer such as Ms. Khobragade enjoyed immunity from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts “only with respect to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions.”

Therefore, it was noted, under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations the Consul General was “liable to arrest pending trial pursuant to a felony arrest warrant,” and it was this type of warrant that had been issued against her.

However it would appear that the defence would challenge this assumption, possibly on the grounds that the contract signed by Ms. Khobragade assuring a wage of $9.75 per hour was essential to get an A-3 visa for Ms. Richard, and this in turn was a crucial requirement if Ms. Khobragade was required to carry out her official duties while taking care of two young children.

The case brought by the DOJ against Ms. Khobragade follows an investigation by its Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, in which the diplomat has been slapped with criminal charges of causing “materially false and fraudulent documents” to be presented to authorities in her bid to Ms. Richard employed as a babysitter and housekeeper at her residence in Manhattan. These relate to allegations that she paid Ms. Richard a lower salary than contractually promised.

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