The diplomatic row between India and the United States over the arrest and prosecution of Devyani Khobragade, the Indian deputy consul-general in New York, for visa fraud and violation of US employment laws, continues (see my previous post) but new facts are emerging which may affect a determination of whether the US acted lawfully in arresting Ms Khobragade. India has taken further retaliatory measures against the US by withdrawing some of the privileges enjoyed by US diplomats and their families in the India. It is also investigating possible tax violations by US officials and has issued new identity cards to US consular officials in which make it clear to those officials (and to the police) that those consular officials may be arrested for serious offences (see recent New York Times, Reuters and BBC reports). With regard to Ms Khobragade herself, new questions have emerged with regard to the immunity that she may be entitled to. As noted in my previous post, India has, since her arrest, moved her from its consulate in New York to the Indian Mission to the UN, apparently, in an attempt to obtain full diplomatic immunity for her. It has now been asserted that even at the time of the arrest, she was temporarily assigned to the Indian Mission to the UN to assist with work in connection with the General Assembly session (see Reuters report). This may well change the picture as to whether Ms Khobragade was actually immune from arrest at the time.
In my previous post, I discussed the legality of the deputy consul-general’s arrest on the basis that she was only entitled to consular immunity. As noted in that post, consular officials are only entitled to functional immunity from prosecution, i.e immunity in respect of acts performed in the exercise of her consular functions, and may be arrested for grave crimes (pursuant to a decision of a competent judicial authority). However, the position is different with regard to representatives of states to the UN. If Ms Khobragade was already a part of the Indian Mission to the UN when arrested, or if she does become a part of the Indian Mission then the position with regard to the arrest, and with regard to the prosecution might be different from what was first thought.
Let me begin by considering the legality of the arrest of Ms Khobragade in the light of the claim that she was already a member of India’s mission to the UN at the time of the arrest. Reuters report that
“[s]he was temporarily moved to India’s U.N. mission in August to help with the workload ahead of the General Assembly session and a visit by the prime minister. A copy of her accreditation, made available to Reuters, lists her as an adviser for a period from August 26 until December 31.”
If this is correct then Ms Khobragade might well have been immune from arrest at the time when she was arrested. The reason for this is that Section 11(a) of the 1946 General Convention on Privileges and Immunities on the United Nations provides that “Representatives of Members to the principal and subsidiary organs of the United Nations and to conferences convened by the United Nations, shall, while exercising their functions . . .”, enjoy “Immunity from personal arrest or detention”. Read the rest of this entry…