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India in a Diplomatic Row with Saudi Arabia
Sep 11, 2015

A diplomat from the Saudi Arabian embassy in New Delhi allegedly accused sexually assaulted and facilitated gang rapes of two domestic helpers in his employment. The two Nepali women told police that they were imprisoned in the diplomat's apartment and after being raped by the man, he allowed friends to also rape them. A number of cases, including rape and illegal confinement, have been brought against the diplomat, who has not been named. 

India has stringent anti-rape laws. Defendants are taken into custody immediately on the basis of a police complaint, but the global convention for diplomatic relations grant immunity to diplomatic agents from the criminal jurisdiction of host nations. The Saudi diplomat does enjoy immunity, which protects him from police detention and questioning. The Indian government can request that the Saudis revoke the accused's immunity. If they choose not to, the Indian government can formally expel the diplomat, if it deems the case sufficiently serious.

What is Diplomatic Immunity?

Diplomatic immunity is a form of legal immunity and a policy held between governments to ensure that diplomats are given safe passage and are considered not prone to legal cases or prosecution under the host country’s laws.

  • The Vienna Convention classifies emissaries according to three types of assignment: embassy, consular, and international organisation. 

  • The embassy is the primary diplomatic presence established by one country in another that it recognises. 

  • The embassy’s chief official is the ambassador, who serves as his country’s official representative.

  • A nation has only one embassy per foreign country, usually in the capital, but may have multiple consulate offices, generally in locations where many of its citizens live or visit. 

  • The consulate, which is headed by a consul, provides government services to individuals abroad, most having to do with travel. 

  • The consulate issues visas to foreign nationals, issues and renews passports for its own citizens, and assists its citizens travelling abroad with issues of marriage, divorce, adoption, legal emergencies, and the like.

  • A consulate may be managed not by a foreign service officer but a prominent national; such posts are of limited authority and the persons holding them are called honorary consuls.

  • Diplomats posted in an Embassy get immunity, along with his or her family members. 

  • Similarly, the administrative and technical staff in the embassy will get immunity, along with one’s family. 

  • This is applicable according to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

  • For the diplomats posted in the consulates, they get diplomatic immunity except for charges of serious crime if a warrant is issued. But their family doesn’t get that immunity. This is based on the Vienna convention on Consular Relations.

It is possible for the official’s home country to waive immunity; this tends to happen only when the official has committed a serious crime, unconnected with their diplomatic role or has witnessed such a crime. Alternatively, the home country may prosecute the individual. 


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