Editorial: Diplomat's nation should be named

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Criminal incidents involving diplomats in New Zealand have been rare.
Criminal incidents involving diplomats in New Zealand have been rare.

Diplomatic immunity is a necessary evil. Necessary from any country's point of view when it sends diplomats to a foreign criminal jurisdiction, and evil when it permits another nation's representatives to escape our law. The convention exists for the safety of diplomats, it ought not shield the country he represents from the shame his actions have brought upon it.

The state that has recalled a young diplomat after an attempted rape of a woman in Wellington deserves to be known. It was asked to waive diplomatic immunity and refused. The Prime Minister has been reluctant to name the man or the country that sent him here because a court suppression order is in force thanks to the fact that police had brought criminal proceedings against him before diplomatic immunity was invoked.

The man in his 30s followed a 21-year-old woman to her home and was later charged with burglary and assault with intent to rape. It does not sound like the sort of circumstances in which a diplomat might claim to have crossed a legal boundary in pursuit of his country's interests.

The fact that he was stationed at a high commission rather than an embassy suggests he represents a country of the Commonwealth, which makes it all the more disappointing that it does not submit him to New Zealand justice. Commonwealth countries share a British common law inheritance, though perhaps not all treat intended rape as seriously as New Zealand does.

The Prime Minister "understands" this man's home country is looking into the case and charges might follow there. Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, David Shearer, urges the Government to make sure the case is not swept under that country's carpet. If it is, the best New Zealand can do is ensure that the fellow will be arrested should he ever return to this country without diplomatic immunity.

There is not much prospect that he will. But as infuriating as it is that this man cannot be made answerable to our law, we need to consider our likely response to criminal charges brought against a New Zealand diplomat in another country. Would we hand the person's fate to the host country's justice system, or bring them home to answer to ours? Justice is a sensitive national nerve, as has been seen when Australians and New Zealanders have been arrested on drug offences in Indonesia and Malaysia. Whether we think them innocent or guilty, most of us sympathise with their fear of foreign justice.

Procedures that are acceptable in one culture are often offensive to another. The arrest of a female Indian diplomat in New York late last year caused an international incident after she was subjected to a strip-search. She was accused of underpaying a maid and supplying false information for the maid's visa application. United States marshalls said they followed routine booking procedures despite her immunity.

Criminal incidents involving diplomats in New Zealand have been rare.

In 1997 an 18-year-old Lower Hutt woman was allegedly sexually assaulted by a Colombian ambassador while she was attending a local cinema. He had diplomatic immunity and resigned but was not prosecuted. In 2000 a Wellington court needed a waiver of immunity to prosecute the partner of an Australian diplomat for injuring with a knife.

In both cases, those involved and their countries were named. It seems the least that should be done if diplomats cannot be held to account for offences against the citizens and law of their host country.

This is a case where the identity of the victim might override disclosure of the accused's name but the country he has disgraced ought to be known. It could have waived his immunity and recovered some respect.

- NZ Herald

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