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December 19, 2013

Arrest of Indian Consular Official in NY Sparks Dispute

by Adam Phillips

An international controversy, sparked after the arrest of a senior Indian consular official in New York, is continuing. The Indian official was charged with paying her domestic employee far less than New York’s legal minimum wage, and with causing her employee to lie on her U.S. State Department visa application.  Indian protesters say her arrest violated her diplomatic immunity.

In India, official and grassroots outrage continued over the arrest in New York last week of Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade by U.S. authorities.

At a news conference Thursday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf tried to de-escalate tensions with India, an important relationship for the U.S.  

“This incident is not something that should define that certainly or that should negatively impact that. What we’re focused on is having many conversations at many levels about moving this relationship forward, about moving past this episode and letting the legal and judicial process move itself forward," said Harf.

But Dan Arshack, Khobragade’s lawyer, wants the legal and judicial process against his client to halt. He says her arrest and strip search violated the diplomatic immunity she is guaranteed under international law.   
 
“We hope that we won’t ever have to address the charges in court, because we hope and expect that from a diplomatic level this case will be resolved. But we are confident that if we do have to address the charges, she will be completetly vindicated," said Arshack.

Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch understands Khobragade’s predicament, but is unmoved.

“The diplomat has been charged with a felony, and there has been a big uproar over her treatment - the fact that she was booked, the fact that she was strip searched. But the controversy has completely overshadowed the exploitation of her employee and similar abuses of domestic workers that happen worldwide every single day," said Becker.

A balance must be struck between competing views, says Pace University Law Professor Thomas McDonnell.

He believes India's government has overreacted.

“The idea of removing the concrete barriers in front of our embassy that protect our ambassador and other officials in that embassy from a terrorist attack seems extraordinarily out of proportion. So what they have done in my view is far worse than what we have done," said McDonnell.