The Limits of Diplomatic Immunity

Devyani Khobragade, India's Deputy Consul General in New York.

Devyani Khobragade, India’s Deputy Consul General in New York.

US relations with India suffered a serious setback last week after federal US Marshalls arrested and strip searched India’s Deputy Consul General, Devyani Khobragade. Khobragade was detained on charges that she violated visa provisions and underpaid her Indian maid. But India’s government responded angrily at the charges and the treatment of Khobragade. They say that the Indian government was never notified of the issue, and that the United States was merely engaged in “muscle flexing.”

As an Indian diplomatic officer, Khobragade has consular but not diplomatic immunity. Consular immunity protects Khobragade from prosecution for actions undertaken as part of her official duties, but leaves her open to arrest on other charges. Diplomatic immunity, by contrast, would have prevented her detention or arrest on any charges.

Regardless, her detention left the US government on the defensive last week, as Secretary of State John Kerry was forced to issue an apology for the situation after US diplomats in India were forced to return their diplomatic ID cards and the Indian government removed barricades outside of US diplomatic compounds in India.


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