Act with firmness

In a country that has seen much outrage over cases of rape and has passed strict laws in the past few years to check such crimes, it seems ironic that the Indian government must watch helplessly as a diplomat who has been accused of brutalising two women is able to evade police action. The Saudi Arabian official cannot even be taken in for questioning on the allegedly barbaric crimes he and some of his family members participated in at their residence in New Delhi. While it would be unfair and imprudent to pronounce him (and possibly others) guilty without going through due process of law, the facts of the case, the outcome of medical examination procedures and eyewitness accounts have led officials to admit that prima facie there is evidence that the victims were repeatedly raped, sodomised, and held captive at knife-point over months. Regardless of the gravity of the crime, however, international diplomatic conventions must be followed, and unless the Saudi government can be prevailed upon to waive the diplomat’s immunity, he will no doubt be on a flight to safety and out of the reach of Indian authorities pretty soon. While Riyadh is unlikely to give up its diplomat, waiving immunity has been done in exceptional cases in the past. In 1997, Georgia did so for its deputy ambassador to the United States who was held guilty in a drunken driving accident that left his 16-year-old co-passenger dead. Other countries have also waived immunity when the crimes merited a full investigation. However, Saudi Arabia has always protected its diplomats, despite what one official termed a “disproportionately high” number of cases involving Saudi officials in heinous crimes. In the U.K. and the U.S., charges of enslaving women have been brought against Saudi Arabian diplomats — to no avail. There was particular anger in the U.K. in 2004 when a Saudi official was accused of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl, but he too got away.

India must push the Saudi government for accountability. India has an added responsibility, given that those involved are citizens of a third country and came here from earthquake-hit and impoverished parts of Nepal seeking livelihood opportunities desperately. India will need to be sensitive to Nepal’s concerns in the matter. If it fails to secure the Saudi government’s cooperation, New Delhi will still have several options to pursue the case at the bilateral level. Sustained pressure may bear results given that Saudi Arabia expects to host Prime Minister Narendra Modi this year. At the very least, if New Delhi shows its determination to pursue this case, that will serve as a deterrent to any others who may seek to use their diplomatic status to claim immunity from the consequences of their crimes.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2022 7:13:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/act-with-firmness/article7648683.ece

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