WASHINGTON - Stung by India’s tough retaliatory measures in the wake of last week’s arrest and humiliation of its female diplomat in New York, the United States has appealed to New Delhi to uphold the Vienna Conventions provisions and ensure the safety and security of American diplomats stationed in the country.
Devyani Khobragade, 39, was held in a cell with other females and strip-searched following her arrest, the US Marshals Service said, noting such treatment was standard procedure in her case and that no policies were violated. She eventually posted bond of $250,000 and was released. But the incident has outraged Indian society and the New Delhi government hit back by withdrawing some of privileges given to US diplomats in India.
“We have conveyed at high levels to the government of India our expectation that India will continue to fulfil all of its obligations under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations and consular relations. Obviously the safety and security of our diplomats and consular officers in the field is a top priority,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters while responding to a series of questions at the daily press briefing.
“We’ll continue to work with India to ensure that all of our diplomats and consular officers are being afforded full rights and protections. Safety and security of our facilities as well is something we take very seriously, and we’ll keep working with the Indians on that,” Harf said.
The Indian government was informed about the allegations of visa fraud against Khobragade in September, she said. “The State Department advised the embassy of the Republic of India in writing in September of allegations of abuse made by an Indian national against the Deputy Consular General of India in New York,” she said in response to a question. The United States will continue to have conversations with the Indian government to make sure their facilities are properly secured, Harf said. Top State Department officials, including the Deputy Secretary William Burns, the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal, a US citizen of Indian origin, As well as the US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell have been in close communications with top Indian officials in this regard, she said, adding that a lot of demarches have been issued by India on this issue.
She said US Secretary of State John Kerry was aware of the issue.
Meanwhile, the Indian deputy consul in New York, whose arrest last week on visa fraud charges has sparked off a major diplomatic row between the United States and India, was transferred to the country’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations with full immunity, according to American media reports on Wednesday. The move to shift Devyani Khobragade, 39, to the mission capped a day of protests in front of the US Embassy in New Delhi and from the floor of the country’s parliament, The Washington Post reported.
Indian officials have alleged that the diplomat was strip-searched, cavity-searched and swabbed for DNA after her arrest. The Indian government retaliated Tuesday by moving to sharply curtail privileges afforded U.S. diplomats. The US State Department officials have said that standard procedures were followed during the arrest. A a spokesman called the arrest an “isolated episode” that would be looked into. “We understand that this is a sensitive issue for many in India,” Marie Harf, a State Department deputy spokesman, said Tuesday. “Accordingly, we are looking into the intake procedures surrounding this arrest to ensure that all appropriate procedures were followed and every opportunity for courtesy was extended.”
The US Marshals Service said in a statement Tuesday that Khobragade “was subject to the same search procedures as other USMS arrestees held within the general prisoner population in the Southern District of New York.” It said she had been placed in an “available and appropriate cell.” Before her transfer to the new post, US officials had maintained that Khobragade was entitled only to limited immunity, drawing a distinction between diplomatic and consular immunity.
“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,” Harf said. “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.” Khobragade is now entitled to all diplomatic privileges and immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations which she did not enjoy as a consular officer. Consular officers are covered under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which does not give them the same protection as full diplomats.
Khobragade has remained publicly silent throughout. Butshe wrote a note this week thanking her Indian diplomatic colleagues for their support and describing how she broke down several times while being strip-searched, according to an internal e-mail made available to The Washington Post.
“This entire prosecution represents a significant error in judgement and an embarrassing failure of U.S. international protocol,” her lawyer, Daniel Arshack, said in a statement. “We expect a prompt resolution of this matter.” According to court papers, Khobragade, who is described as an advocate for women’s issues, presented a work contract to US authorities that said she would pay her maid-babysitter $9.75 an hour, as required. But she later drew up a private contract with the woman and paid her only $3.31 an hour, the documents said.
In the days since Khobragade’s arrest, the Indian government has lodged a formal complaint with Nancy owell, the U.S. ambassador to India, and several high-ranking Indian politicians refused to meet with a visiting US congressional delegation to show their displeasure over the matter.