|Alassane Ba, Shelter Afrique boss, allegedly physically assaulted a female colleague. [Photo: File/Standard]|
By Lillian Aluanga-Delvaux
Recent events touching on highly placed foreign nationals and their alleged violation of the law have cast the spotlight on the meaning and role of “diplomatic immunity”.
In June, Ms Karen Kandie, a financial director at Shelter Afrique, a Pan African housing financial institution, alleged her boss Alassane Ba physically assaulted her. Mr Ba, a Mauritanian, denies the claims.
Among issues in contention at the time was whether Ba enjoyed diplomatic immunity — a principle of international law that shields diplomats from legal action or prosecution in their host country.
Ba was forced to obtain court orders to restrict the Director of Public Prosecutions from following through with an arrest order. This means Ba cannot be arrested until the case is determined in October.
The DPP’s order followed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs declaration that Ba’s immunity does not cover cases of assault and other crimes.
Persona non grata
Weeks later, Kenyan staff at the Venezuelan Embassy filed a complaint with the diplomatic Police Unit alleging the Charge d’affaires, Ms Olga Fonseca had threatened to sack them if they did not withdraw a sexual harassment report filed against her predecessor, Gerardo Carillo Silva. But in a strange twist of events, Fonseca, who had only been in the country for two weeks, was found murdered in her Runda home in Nairobi.
Among those charged in court over the incident is the First Secretary at the embassy, Dwight Saragay, whose diplomatic immunity was waived.
In May, last year, Nigeria’s ambassador to Kenya Chijioke Wigwe was alleged to have battered his wife. The incident led to an unsuccessful push by sections of women’s rights groups calling for the lifting of his immunity to allow for prosecution. Wigwe denied the claims and although he was briefly recalled to Nigeria, he returned to his position five months later.
So just what is diplomatic immunity and who grants such privileges? International Relations lecturer David Kikaya says diplomatic immunity is granted under the terms of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
Kikaya, who lectures at the United States International University and served in the Foreign Affairs ministry, says there are also international governmental organisations and international non-governmental bodies that enjoy a certain degree of immunity not covered by the convention.
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