Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

India; United States: Arrest of Diplomat Affecting Bilateral Ties

(Dec. 19, 2013) On December 17, 2013, it was reported that the Indian government had lodged a formal complaint with Nancy Powell, the U.S. ambassador to India, following the arrest in New York of an Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, India’s Deputy Consul General in New York. Khobragade is accused of “making false statements and visa fraud.” (Annie Gowan, Arrest of Indian Diplomat in New York Sparks U.S.-India Tensions, THE WASHINGTON POST (Dec. 17, 2013).)

Prosecutors in New York say that Khobragade claimed she paid her Indian maid $4,500 per month, but that she actually paid her below the minimum wage. The 39-year-old diplomat was arrested Thursday while dropping her daughter off at school. She pleaded not guilty and was freed on $250,000 bail. (Id.)

Voice of America reported that her arrest has turned into a diplomatic dispute between Washington and New Delhi. Top Indian officials boycotted a visiting U.S. congressional delegation in protest over the incident. (Anjana Pasricha, US Arrest of Indian Diplomat Sparks Dispute,VOICE OF AMERICA (Dec. 17, 2013).)

Khobragade’s attorneys emphasized that she has diplomatic immunity, whereas the federal law enforcement authorities have argued that her alleged visa fraud is not covered under the Vienna Convention, specifically, article 31. (Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Immunity (Apr. 18, 1961), United Nations Industrial Development Organization website.) According to a U.S. State Department spokesperson,

Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Indian Deputy Consul General enjoys immunity from the jurisdiction of US courts only with respect to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions. Again, there’s different kinds of immunity. This isn’t just in the U.S.; it’s all around the world. So in this case, she fell under that specific kind of immunity, and would be liable to arrest pending trial pursuant a felony arrest warrant.” (Krishnadev Calamur, India-U.S. Row over Diplomat’s Arrest in New York Escalates, NPR (Dec. 17, 2013).)

According to a State Department booklet on diplomatic and consular immunity, “[d]iplomatic immunity is a principle of international law by which certain foreign government officials are not subject to the jurisdiction of local courts and other authorities for both their official and, to a large extent, their personal activities.” (U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE, Diplomatic and Consular Immunity: Guidance for Law Enforcement and Judicial Authorities 2 (July 2011) [copy and paste title into browser if link inoperable].) However, most of these privileges and immunities are not absolute, and law enforcement officers retain their fundamental responsibility to protect and police the orderly conduct of persons in the United States. (Id. at 1.)