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Experts decry US action

Washington, Dec 17 (IANS) As the India-US diplomatic row over the arrest and the purported strip search of its ranking diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York worsened, US legal experts are aghast over Washington’s “legalistic stand” on the issue.

Defending the manner of the arrest of Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general over charges of alleged visa fraud, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf Monday made a distinction between “diplomatic immunity” and “consular immunity” and suggested the police followed “standard procedures.”

“Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Indian deputy consul general enjoys immunity from the jurisdiction of US courts only with respect to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions,” she said.

“This isn’t just in the US; it’s all around the world. So in this case, she fell under that specific kind of immunity, and would be liable to arrest pending trial pursuant a felony arrest warrant,” Harf said.

While it may indeed be technically correct that under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963, Khobragade enjoyed limited immunity only for cases directly relating to consular functions, US could have opted for a “graceful resolution” of the issue, many experts here said.

“Retaliatory reciprocity, the poison pill of diplomacy, must be avoided at all costs if we are to protect American diplomats serving around the world, including dangerous outposts,” says a leading Indian American New York lawyer, Ravi Batra, who has handled such cases in the past.

“This American interest overwhelms the relatively minuscule interest being vindicated by arresting and charging a foreign diplomat over wages and hours,” he said.

“Diplomats are frequently asked by the receiving nations to leave, either due to crimes committed in such receiving nation or as a political rebuke” but “they are not arrested,” Batra noted.

He also points out there have been cases where “Americans, diplomats and others engage in illegal prostitution on foreign soil, which was criminally chargeable – yet charges were not levelled and arrests did not occur.”

Even in the case of a non-diplomat, Robert Davis who killed two guys in Pakistan “in defense of American national security” a “graceful exit was properly arranged,” he noted.

“Judged against that backdrop, the arrest of Devyani Khobragade is puzzling and a self-inflicted wound at best,” Batra wrote.

“Peculiar about this arrest is not its legality, but that despite the existence of sound diplomatic and prosecutorial discretions not to criminally charge, which is the diplomatic norm amongst nations, criminal charges were levelled,” he says.

Experts have also asked why the US chose to act against a diplomat from a friendly country like India, when only a handful of the 194 countries with which US has diplomatic relations would be in a position to meet the US minimum wages’ standard.

Was it a case of India-born, US attorney for Manhattan, Preet Bharara being more American than the natural born Americans, they wonder.

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