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Vienna Convention open to varied interpretations

india Updated: Dec 18, 2013 00:40 IST
Rahul Singh
Rahul Singh
Hindustan Times
Devyani Khobragade

Diplomatic immunity has been open to various interpretations, the incident involving India’s deputy consul general in New York Devyani Khobragade has shown.

The US State Department may have argued that Khobragade does not enjoy immunity from the jurisdiction of the US courts under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, but Washington had invoked the same 1961 pact two years back when CIA contractor Raymond Allen Davis was being tried for murder in Pakistan.

The US had then pressed the Pakistani government to release Davis, accused of killing two Pakistanis, on the grounds that he enjoyed immunity extended to all diplomats under the Convention.

Former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said, “The Vienna Convention can be interpreted the way a nation wants to. The US interpretation has been rather restrictive…they have unilaterally decided that the woman diplomat is not covered under it.”

He added that when it comes to American diplomats and citizens, the US is very sensitive and demands maximum (privileges) for them, as was evident in the Davis case.

“He was just a contractor with the US embassy in Pakistan and they invoked immunity,” he said.

Davis was released after he paid the families of the two men killed $2.4 million as compensation. Khobragade is accused of giving false information while applying for a visa for a “babysitter and housekeeper” she brought from India, and of underpaying the woman. She could get up to 15 years in jail if convicted. On her diplomatic immunity, a US government official said, “Under the Vienna Convention, Khobragade enjoys immunity from the jurisdiction of US courts only with respect to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions.”