Will immunity allow Saudi diplomat accused of rape to escape trial?

The women from Nepal were reportedly lured to India with the promise of jobs and were allegedly sold to the diplomat.
Will immunity allow Saudi diplomat accused of rape to escape trial?
Will immunity allow Saudi diplomat accused of rape to escape trial?
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In a case that has triggered a diplomatic tussle between Saudi Arabia and India, a diplomat at the Saudi Arabia embassy in New Delhi has been booked for rape while his wife and daughter have been booked for torturing two women domestic helps in Gurgaon. 

The victims- 30 and 32-year-old respectively- had been lured to Delhi with the promise of well-paid jobs and then allegedly sold to the Saudi diplomat, who is the First Secretary at the embassy, states a report by The Hindu

In their statement, the women alleged that they had been held captive by the diplomat and his family for a period of over three months during which they had been continuously assaulted, raped and even forced to perform "unnatural sex" for the official and other Saudi nationals, sometimes even at knife-point. They had also been taken to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia for a few days during this period. 

Another woman who had reportedly been sold to the diplomat, but managed to escape, complained to an NGO called Maiti Nepal India. The NGO in turn contacted the Gurgaon police. Following a request from the Nepal Embassy, the Gurgaon police on Monday raided the apartment of the diplomat and rescued the two women. An FIR has been filed under sections 376 D (gangrape), 376 (rape), 377 (unnatural offence), 342 (wrongful confinement), 120 B (criminal conspiracy), 323 (causing hurt), 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The diplomat was not named. No arrests have been made yet and the diplomat was reportedly "untraceable" folowing the raid. 

Rajesh Kumar Chechi, Gurgaon Assistant Commissioner of Police (Crime) said that a medical examination conducted on the two women confirmed rape and sexual assault, reported The Indian Express

But the Saudi embassy, dismissing the charges as “completely false” and "contrary to facts in our possession", said they would wait for the Indian government to clarify the matter as per diplomatic norms.

A Saudi embassy official also disapproved of the way police was damaging a person and a country's reputation on the basis of mere charges made by a third person and said it was violative of the rights of the diplomat and his family. 

Meanwhile, the diplomat has reportedly claimed immunity and the police are consulting the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on the issue. MEA Spokesperson Vikas Swarup on Wednesday said, "We have asked for a report from Gurgaon police in the matter. Further steps will be taken once the Ministry receives a detailed report from them.”

Can diplomatic immunity allow the official and his family to escape prosecution even if there is sufficient evidence to pin them to the alleged crimes?

Diplomatic immunity is meant to protect diplomats from lawsuits and legal cases in the host country.

Officials told The Hindu that it is likely the diplomat and his family could have flown out of Delhi already. Also, given the privileges, including immunity, which diplomats enjoy in the host country “there was no chance” of arrest. “Despite the terrible nature of the crime, unless the Saudi Arabian government waives it, the immunity will protect them completely," an official told the newspaper. 

How does diplomatic immunity work?

Following the Devyani Khobragade case in the US where the IFS officer was allegedly strip-searched by US authorities, Uma Purushothaman, a Research Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, wrote an article explaining how diplomatic immunities work in different countries.

“The concept of diplomatic immunity is enshrined in the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Immunity of 1961 and on Consular Relations of 1963 though it has a history going far beyond the 20th century. It is now considered part of customary law. The concept is essentially meant to enable diplomats to do their jobs, protect their rights and defend themselves from hostile actions or pressure from the host country. In addition to the conventions, diplomatic immunity and privileges today are based on the principle of reciprocity. For instance, Russia and the U.S. have given blanket diplomatic immunity for all their diplomatic and consular staff. Some countries have bilateral arrangements with other countries according to which their diplomats enjoy visa-free travel in each other’s countries.”

She also noted that such immunities are also misused or violated to escape local laws. 

According to the Vienna Convention, emissaries are of the following three kinds according to three types of assignments- embassy, consular, and international organisation. “The embassy is the primary diplomatic presence established by one country in another that it recognizes,” states a report in The Indian Express.

A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State. He/she can also enjoy immunity from its civil and administrative jurisdiction, barring in a few cases, according to the Vienna Convention.

Diplomats posted in an Embassy get immunity, along with his or her family members. Those posted in the consulates also get immunity, but not for serious crimes, according to the Vienna convention on Consular Relations.

However the diplomat’s home country has the power to waive immunity or the official can also be prosecuted in his/her country.

With inputs from IANS

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