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Friday, December 20, 2013

About That Consular Protection in the U.S.

And this time it's about a diplomat.

Lynne sent a link to an article about this affair between India and the U.S. that is getting very hot right now.

An Indian diplomat was arrested in New York on charges that she underpaid her maid, another Indian citizen. While Devyani Khobragade, the India deputy consul general, was in custody she was strip and cavity-searched. Something New York law enforcement said was "standard."


I had no idea.  

OK, New York is now permanently off my list of attractive places to spend my vacation. Look, if that's the way they treat diplomats, have to wonder how they treat the hoi polloi like me.

In fairness, New York's finest claim that she was, in fact, treated quite well.  The Indians, however do not agree and so far the backlash has been pretty ugly.  This article says that, in retaliation "U.S. diplomats were stripped of ID cards that make clearances easier, and bulldozers removed security barricades outside the U.S. embassy in New Delhi."

Here is Al-Jazeera's reporting on the incident:

So far U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed "regrets" for the incident.  One report I read said that they were really shocked that the Indians went so far as to remove the concrete blocks that protect the American embassy with tow trucks and backhoes.  Another said that India might start checking all US diplomats and their families for violations of Indian law.

The Indians say they want a full apology and I think there is a good chance they will get it.


Blaze said...

You have more confidence in US than I do. I think "regret" is as far as they will go.

Someone at Brock is promoting such treatment as "constitutional."

Well, then everything is just hunky dory.

I somehow suspect India will not be in a hurry to sign an IGA any time soon.

Tim said...

I have been an active participant on IBS thread on this issue and have been doing my part to throw a few slabs of red meat on the grill to fuel this latest outbreak of anti-Americanism. To a large degree this is case on the United States as a whole not just the New York law enforcement authorities(She was actually arrested by NY based Federal cops).

However, I do strongly believe that if this diplomat was stationed in Seattle for example I don't believe she would have received the same treatment as in NYC not to say that there is not police abuse in Washington State. I would go so far to say that in most major American cities other than New York she would have not undergone the same treatment. Some of it too is I suspect the Seattle Police are much more intimidated by the much smaller number of Seattle based diplomats. I think the issue in New York is there is this local belief that most diplomats(if not all)based in the city are just there for patronage and junketeering reasons and do little "real" work whereas in Seattle or Boston where there are lot a fewer diplomats and only a handful of countries maintain Seattle or Boston consulates there is a lot more deference and respect given(Almost every country has a consulate in New York including some that don't even maintain an embassy in DC).

The other thing I will mention is New York is an incredibly expensive city for diplomats and diplomatic missions to operate(Something that very well might have been a contributing factor to this case). In New York the Canadian consulate for example is located in the basement of the McGraw Hill building across from Rockefeller Center. Yes you heard correctly the basement. Numerous Canadian stationed diplomats have reported Sick Building Syndrome from the high levels of mold and mildew in the office(due to being in the basement). On the other hand the Canadian Consulate in Boston is located in Copley Place Shopping Center office tower right above the Boston locations of Neiman Marcus, Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Tiffany's among others. Quite a difference. Of course Boston office rents even for "high end" space are much lower than New York. To be fair the NYC location is on a purely locational basis a good spot but who wants to work in a basement.

Tim said...

In the picture above the glass windows at the top are the Canadian consulate in Boston that overlook the Atrium in the Copley Place Mall. The stores(and very expensive ones at that) are below on the bottom half of the picture. Who the hell would want to work in New York basement compared to a luxury Boston shopping center. I also forgot Jimmy Choo, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Mont Blanc are also co-tenants in the mall with the Canadian government.

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Victoria FERAUGE said...

That's a good point, Tim. Context matters. I was really amazed to hear that body and cavity searches are standard in NYC? I'd like to know why? Is it because it is a really violent [place and so they must assume that anyone they take into custody has something on them that would hurt others? Does Seattle have the same rules? For that matter what are the rules in Paris?

I don't know if this diplomat is a nice person or not. And I do believe that equal treatment under the law is an objective worth aspiring to. But it never that, I would say. We all know that the law in the US and in many other places is not applied equally. And it probably never will be as long as human beings are responsible for it.

Diplomats have extra protection because they are vulnerable. They represent their country in another state and when things go badly, they are on the front lines (that is often true of foreign nationals as well). That's why the Vienna Convention was signed to protect them. It can be abused, no doubt about that. But a world where they were not entitled to extra protection at all woundn't be good either. One article mentioned that the Indians might start looking into the behaviour of US diplomats in India. If they look hard enough, I bet my bottom dollar that they will find things. Consular officers are not archangels. If every country did that to the diplomats of other countries, that would a fine kettle of fish.

bubblebustin said...

This is a very good Reuters article on the incident, and what transpired. Apparently she was not cavity searched, but the arresting body could have used discretion as to whether she would be subjected to the standard strip search:

Tim said...

In terms of what the standard procedures for arrest are in Seattle or Paris you are asking the wrong person as I have no personal experience with this. A couple of things I will say from personal experience.

Myself of several occasions riding the Paris Metro and RER I have been asked for proof of fare payment. In Boston, New York, and Toronto where I have ridden the subway far more many times than in Paris(in some cases on a daily basis for extended periods of time) I have not once been asked for proof of fare payment. As you know in Paris they have fare gates like in NY, Boston, and Toronto but unlike Vancouver and Los Angeles which do go on the honor system.

In terms of prison conditions from what I have heard New York's are much better than California's. California's prison system is an absolute mess which huge levels of overcrowding. New York on the otherhand has substantially overcapacity due to the huge declines in crime rates over the past 20 years. California also has a very corrupt prison guard union.

bubblebustin said...

In the case of someone in the diplomatic corp, I would think it's less about standard procedure, and more about standard exceptions, knowing something like this could cause an international incident.

The story was on our local news this morning.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Tim, my dear brother in California was working for the California prison system. Lucky for him, he's left that job and is now working for the state healthcare program. Or may not so lucky? :-)

@bubblebustin, yeah, I don't think that homelanders really understand that stuff like this can put their compatriots in other countries at risk. My question is how do we make them aware of this? How do we get them to take that broader perspective? I understand that the law is the law but if applying the law to the letter or ignoring international agreements puts US citizens and diplomats at risk is it really worth it? Do they really want to see their kid thrown in jail somewhere and not allowed to contact the US embassy? Or put American diplomats, representatives of the United States in other countries, at risk? Common sense would dictate prudence here.

I also saw an article where the Indians were hauling out examples of diplomats in the US from other countries like Saudi Arabia or Russia who have been accused of far more heinous things and were never arrested. What a can of worms this has opened....