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Satya Pal Singh. Editorial.XIV.IX.XV

 

Saudi sex scandal: Jamboree

 

and diplomatic immunity



Satya Pal Singh-fnbworld By Satya Pal Singh

 

 

Saudi Arabia

When will this world realize that crime is crime and must always stay punishable, no matter who happens to be the perpetrator? If someone indulges in horrific, demeaning offences and escapes punishment under cover of diplomatic immunity, even as the human conscience cries shame, the entire humanity and its so-called 'advanced civilization' remain open to indignity and disgrace. The victims of any such criminal intrusion must get justice at all times and in any given society on the global plane.

 

Two Nepalese women, who were allegedly raped and confined by a Saudi diplomat and his guests in a Gurgaon flat and were threatened with murder, belong to that section of global community that lives on the fringe and hardly has voice to fight its powerful tormentors. The victims were brought to India in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake and were reportedly offered "Rs 30,000 and good food" after being sold to an Indian agent for Rs 1 lakh each. The victims were taken to Jeddah and then brought back to India to serve as maids to the diplomat, who eventually made them the fodder of his baser instincts and put them to satiate the hunger of 22 other sex maniacs who every time emerged in their traditional Saudi robes.

 

Diplomatic immunity for
sexual crimes?

 

Although the "unnamed" diplomat and his cohorts were charged for various offences of rape, sodomy and physical brutality on the victims' complaints, cops have since been facing tough time, finding themselves totally ineffective and powerless in dealing with the diplomat since he enjoys protection under the Vienna Convention. Following the complaint, police officials tried to question members of the diplomat's family, but they faced criminally hostile reaction. Saudi Embassy officials seem confident they will be able to brazen it out merely by denying the allegations. No names have been mentioned in the FIR since the complainants did not know the names of the accused who reportedly "behaved like beasts." 

 

The victims claim they were not paid wages for the last four months and were kept in locked rooms,  were not "allowed to make any sound...they showed knives, threatened to kill us and did horrific things with us…they kept knives by the side as they took turns to brutalize us," one women told police, showing her deep wounds. A CCTV footage taken from the Caitriona Apartments shows the diplomat had at least 22 frequent visitors to his 6,750-sq-ft residence. Repeated medical tests performed on the victims testify to the “unmentionable torture and brutalities they suffered” in almost every corner of the apartment.

 

The Vienna convention is an international treaty that defines a framework for diplomatic relations between independent countries and deals with "privileges of a diplomatic mission and the diplomats to perform their functions without fear of coercion or harassment by the host country." This forms the legal basis for diplomatic immunity. Article 22 and Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations do not allow the host country or their police to enter a diplomatic mission or a diplomat’s residence without permission. Under Article 29, diplomats are immune from civil or criminal prosecution and must not be arrested in the host country. What sounds strange here is that the text of this convention misses out on provisions for a sound investigation system even in cases of grievous crimes. Then, why not modify the contents of the convention that allows unrestricted freedom to diplomats ? Seen in the same context, then, why was our Devyani Khobragade, subjected to torture in the US, even though the charge against her was frivolous that pertained only to her maid’s reduced wage? Is it, then, only a superpower like the US is allowed liberty to swoop on the erring foreign diplomats?

 

In what could be described as a nasty attempt at cover-up, Saudi envoy Saud Al-Sati, termed as “false and concocted” the charges of sexual abuse and has protested to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) over “police intrusion” into the diplomat’s house in violation of “all diplomatic conventions.” The accused diplomat too flaunted his innocence and lodged his protest to the govt, alleging complicity to frame him and his friends. That is why days after the complaint of such a heinous crime, MEA is still seeking the Saudi mission's "cooperation" in probe into the charges. The embassy, however, said that it "would wait for clarification from the MEA about the matter and wait for the outcome of the investigation into the allegation." The problem also involves Nepal as the rape survivors are Nepali citizens. Kathmandu is, therefore, rightly seeking justice to the victims.

 

The case having made it to international media networks, global human rights organizations, especially the NGOs fighting sex trafficking, are building pressure on New Delhi  to "fight it to the finish." As the situation stands, Saudi mission now has to choose one of the two available options. It may either persist with the assertion of the diplomat's innocence, allow him to be questioned by police and help the investigation without actually losing his immunity or, it may insist entirely on diplomatic immunity to brazen it out. If the embassy is allowed to opt for the second option, it will mean terrible embarrassment for India.

 

Since the diplomat enjoys immunity from prosecution or lawsuits, Saudis may not allow him to be exposed to a foreign criminal justice system and may call him back before the case assumes serious overtones. It appears New Delhi may not press the issue too far, for it would neither like this case to spoil its ties with Riyadh, nor would it like to override the Vienna Convention. That explains, perhaps, why the govt has not yet declared the diplomat persona non grata. If under international pressure, the govt chooses to violate the Vienna Convention, then Indian diplomats abroad will stand open to grave risks of harassment, especially in the Muslim countries.

 

But if the alleged criminal-diplomat and his cohorts go scotfree, how will the poor victims get justice and what will happen to the call of justice this civilized world seeks to enforce and respect at least in its moral precepts? Doesn't our so-called civilized society look entirely frivolous and tricky? Everyone seems to be talking of respect to women, but is this trumpeted 'respect' being translated into action?

 

Behind the case of these Nepalese women is the tragic episode of human trafficking. According to anti-trafficking NGO 3 Angles Nepal, on an average, more than 54 young girls and women are daily trafficked out of Nepal via India to Middle-East countries, where they enter a life of slavery and exploitation. The border between Nepal and India is 1,850 km long and there are only 14 checkpoints along the route. This makes it easy for traffickers to smuggle around 15,000 women and young girls every year. The victims, mostly in age group of 12 to 25, often end up as sex workers in the brothels. A large number of Nepalese and Bangladeshi women, activists say, are trafficked to Saudi Arabia, UAE, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Russia and Pakistan. Even though India is trying to be tough on this problem, porous border between Nepal and India makes trafficking difficult to stop. Can we put a stop to this scandal?

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