By Evan Mackintosh
In India, is diplomatic immunity a licence to commit rape? The good people of the Indian government would surely throw their hands up in frustration and claim, 'no, surely it is not, but what can we do?'
Diplomatic immunity is a concept that stretches back to the very beginning of human civilization, wherein tribes and nations guarantee the safety of visiting emissaries as a fundamental rule of engagement.
Indeed, protecting diplomatic immunity is a necessary element in ensuring stable communication between countries - one might simply refer to it as the rules of the road; these rules exist to ensure the smooth flow of traffic, but they carry responsibilities for everyone who takes part.
I proudly served as First Secretary at the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from 2009 to 2012. It was a remarkable experience, one in which I learned a great deal about Saudi culture and the eye-opening experience of living in a foreign country.
Beyond the honour of being chosen to represent my country, what really struck me was the immense responsibility upon my shoulders. My words and conduct reflected upon Canada, and such a responsibility exists regardless of whether or not my conduct was protected by diplomatic immunity. My good words and deeds reflected upon Canada, as did my failings and mistakes. The same is true of Mr. Majed Hassan Ashoor; his alleged crimes reflect upon the entire Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, home of the two holy mosques and the birthplace of Islam.
So what can the Modi government do? It would appear, at least to date, that they have done very little. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a wealthy and powerful nation, but are wealth and power excuses for injustice? Does Saudi oil money give its diplomats free rein to rape, abuse, torture, and imprison helpless women? The Indian government must not allow these alleged crimes to fade away simply because Mr. Majed has fled the country.
In 2009, a Saudi diplomat named Marwan al-Harbi was driving recklessly in Ottawa, Canada, and our police attempted to pull him over. Mr. al-Harbi decided to lead the police officers on a chase through the busy streets of our capital city, and intentionally collided with a police vehicle, breaking a police officer’s arm. Marwan al-Harbi was a diplomat, what could Canada do?
In this case, Mr. al-Harbi fled Canada and escaped to Saudi Arabia. Did our responsibility to act end there? No. The Canadian government formally petitioned the Saudi government asking for Mr. al-Harbi’s diplomatic status to be revoked in order for him to face criminal charges. Shortly after the Saudi government refused, the Canadian government unilaterally revoked his diplomatic status in Canada, and the Ottawa police charged him with four criminal counts: criminal negligence causing bodily harm, flight while pursued causing bodily harm, assault with a weapon, and assault causing bodily harm. Mr. al-Harbi managed to return to Saudi Arabia, but he can never again travel to Canada without facing arrest.
All of this for a broken arm and a smashed police car. What has India done in a case involving multiple victims of rape, imprisonment, torture, and abuse?
India can and must show moral leadership on this issue. Diplomatic immunity and oil money do not excuse such crimes, nor do they absolve the Indian authorities from their responsibility to act.
India can immediately revoke Mr. Majed’s diplomatic status in India and formally charge him with these crimes, if that is what their police investigation has concluded is justified by the evidence. India can declare Mr. Majed persona non grata and ensure that he never enters India again. And, finally, India can formally request that the Saudi authorities review the evidence against Mr. Majed and see that he is tried for his crimes in a Saudi court. And with Prime Minister Modi reportedly heading to Saudi Arabia later this year, he can directly confront Saudi authorities on what actions they have taken.
The victims were raped, imprisoned, and tortured. Let us pray for their healing and let justice be served for these disgusting crimes.
In Saudi Arabia, the wealthy, powerful, and well-connected rarely face justice. Will they be laughing now about how it's the same in India? The actions of the Indian government in the days to come will provide an answer.