New Age Islam Edit Bureau
15 September 2015
• Saudi Diplomat Row: Ambition Must Not Overshadow Justice
By Menaka Guruswamy
• Lest We Forget, History Is Important In Germany
By P.J. George
• Migrant Crisis Is Eastern Europe’s Moment of Shame
By Jan T. Gross
• Meat Ban Is Just the Beginning: More Intolerance Is Coming
By Vir Sanghvi
Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Saudi Diplomat Row: Ambition Must Not Overshadow Justice
By Menaka Guruswamy
Sep 14, 2015
The newspapers have reported a horrific saga of sex slavery by a Saudi diplomat, reportedly the first secretary at the embassy. The Saudi national is accused of confining, torturing, trafficking and sexually abusing two Nepali citizens, who had been hired as domestic staff for his home in Gurgaon. He is also accused of providing these two women to his friends to sexually abuse. His wife, meanwhile, is alleged to have participated in torturing the two women.
The allegations against the Saudi national are credible, since reports from local hospitals and doctors have corroborated the horrific physical assaults on both women. The medical reports confirm rape and sodomy. They also show knife injuries on one. A senior official at the Gurgaon civil hospital, who was responsible for the medical examination, observed that the women had been so grievously tortured that it would take them years to recover.
In terms of international realpolitik — India is caught between two long-term allies — Nepal and Saudi Arabia. Nepal, with whom India enjoys a special relationship is persistent in its demands for action against the diplomat. However, India is unlikely to put too much pressure on Saudi Arabia, a strategic and influential partner in the region, and a supplier to India’s ever increasing demand for oil.
This horror story also throws up numerous issues of international law. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1964 — ratified by 190 nations, mandates that a diplomat shall not be liable for any form of arrest or detention, and that his or her person shall be inviolable. This convention also warrants that the private residence of a diplomatic agent shall enjoy the same inviolability and protection as the premises of the mission. This means that the Gurgaon residence of the diplomat enjoys the same protection as the embassy premises. Hence, the search of the premises by the police is rendered fragile under international law.
However, serious or persistent breaches by the diplomat may render him or her persona non grata — a declaration that may be issued by India. This would necessitate the diplomat being withdrawn from the embassy. There are two other international conventions that are relevant. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984 is a codification of the jus cogens or a fundamental norm of international law that prohibits and punishes torture. Torture is defined to be the infliction of severe pain or suffering — mental or physical, by any person acting in an official capacity. The diplomat slaver, claiming immunity, would satisfy the legal threshold of torture.
India has signed the convention against torture, while Saudi Arabia and Nepal have acceded to it. This means that Saudi Arabia has binding obligations under international law to enable the punishment of any of its officials for acts of torture. Further, India and Saudi Arabia (along with 165 other countries) have both ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, 2003. They are obligated under international law to address such a crime. Therefore, it would be legally appropriate for Saudi Arabia to hand over its diplomat for prosecution, if necessary.
However, the real impediment to the prosecution — either locally or in the home country of the diplomatic ‘slaver’ — is that Saudi Arabia has not distinguished itself in its treatment of women under domestic or International Law. Saudi Arabia has largely rendered its women citizens into being international holders. Saudi women have only recently won a hard fought battle to be able to drive cars. This is not a country that will recognise and enable the prosecution of a citizen, much less a diplomat, for the severe torture, rape and degradation of two foreign women on foreign soil.
Meanwhile, India had its own experiences with the invocation of diplomatic immunity in the face of violation of local laws of a host country. In December 2013, Devyani Khobragade, a member of India’s foreign service, who was deputy consul general in New York, was arrested on charges of visa fraud (pertaining to employment conditions of the nanny) and for underpaying her housekeeper Sangeeta Richards. The low wage paid to Richards violated New York states’ labour laws.
The Indian government had then reacted to Khobragade’s arrest with indignation. Our television channels reacted with rage at this slight to India’s pride — its diplomatic immunity and sovereignty. Yet, a critical difference set apart Khobragade’s case from the one of the diplomat ‘slaver’. Khobragade could be arrested since she was stationed at the India’s Consulate in New York, performed consular functions and was not based in the embassy in Washington performing diplomatic functions.
Therefore, the Indian Foreign Service officer was governed by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, 1963. This convention provides that consular officers may be arrested or detained for a grave crime, pursuant to a decision ratifying the arrest by a competent judicial authority. India responded by hurriedly shifting Khobragade to our mission to the United Nations. Hence, Khobragade acquired the necessary diplomatic immunity that would protect her from further detention and imprisonment.
India should be concerned by the wanton lack of humanity and degradation meted out to the two women in question. Domestic labour is a huge work force in our country, and abuse of the workers must be dealt with stringently. We should also take our own aspirations of global leadership seriously, by recognising that such ambition also demands exemplary enforcement of international norms against torture and slavery. Indian diplomacy must aim to ensure that the Saudi citizen joins the investigation and is prosecuted.
Menaka Guruswamy is a Supreme Court lawyer
Lest We Forget, History Is Important In Germany
By P.J. George
September 15, 2015
To leave hundreds of thousands of refugees to an unknown fate would be a repetition that the German moral fibre cannot accept
Just a few weeks back, Germany was living up to many people’s worst-case-scenario for it: neo-Nazis running amok in the clean and orderly towns, burning shelter houses and pepper spraying refugees. Now, we have cheering crowds and teddy bears at train stations welcoming refugees. Did the heartbreaking image of Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body on the beach cause a massive change of heart in a matter of hours?
No. These are more than just evolving responses to the current crisis; they tell the broader story of Germany’s post-war history. It is a story of alienation for some and of guilt for others.
A large number of the attacks on refugee shelters are happening in areas that were once the German Democratic Republic — East Germany. And that is not by chance.
Germany may not be the only country to be still haunted by lines on the map drawn by Western powers, but it is the rare Western country to suffer the fate. Of course, right after the defeat of a regime that almost took over the world, it seemed like a good idea.
However, what is now a thin line on the Berlin pavement had once not just divided the country; it had been the clashing point of two ideologies. The Communist East and the Capitalist West danced to different rhythms for so long that by the time the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, they were completely out of step. Everything from work culture to food habits and views on working mothers had evolved in different directions.
Germans take pride in an incremental policy implementation, correcting errors and closing loopholes as they go. The integration of the East after the fall of the Berlin Wall was anything but. It created massive unemployment in the region as companies folded up in the face of competition from the West. The situation is improving now but the heartburn lingers. And those who gained the most from this heartburn have been rightwing parties like the National Democratic Party, which now has a strong base in the former East German States.
To compound this, the free movement of labour in the EU brought cheap East European labour, triggering chants of the foreigner “here to take our jobs.”
Culturally, too, the Iron Curtain ensured that East Germany had very little to do with “others”. West Germany fared better, inviting Turks over as “guest workers” in the 70s; though some would argue that it added a little more to German multiculturalism than a taste for Döner kebab. The concentration of major German companies in the western region also means foreign workers still flock there. A search for Indian restaurants in Germany on Google Maps serves to prove this point.
If that explains the hatred, what about the love? Ideally, there shouldn’t be any reason. All human response to crisis should be on the lines of what was seen at Munich and Frankfurt train stations: hundreds lining up to welcome refugees with clothes, shoes and toys. But Germans also have a point to prove.
One of the largest memorials in Germany is neither housed in a building nor does it stand on a town square; it is a four-square-inch block inlaid in sidewalks. It bears a plaque with an inscription that begins, “Here lived…” These are stolperstein, or ‘stumbling blocks’, a project that commemorates victims of the Nazi regime by placing these blocks with their names and details in front of buildings where they once lived. Thousands of these ‘stumbling blocks’ are now on the sidewalks of many German cities.
This is a nation that is hell bent on not forgetting. In fact, mahnmal, the German word for memorials of the Holocaust and World War II, doesn’t simply ask people to remember — it is a warning to generations not to repeat the mistake. To leave hundreds of thousands to an unknown fate would be a repetition that the German moral fibre cannot accept.
There are less lofty thoughts from a more recent history also at play. To say that the German image has suffered over the last few years over the EU financial crisis is to put it mildly. Chancellor Angela Merkel must have had some redemption also in mind when she opened up the borders. To be seen coming to the aid of Greece with no strings attached is a welcome change of headlines.
This wave of refugees is an epochal event for Germany. Ms. Merkel recognised that when she said, “what we are experiencing now… will occupy and change our country in coming years.” It will change the demography, the economy and society in predictable and unpredictable ways. What we can be sure of is that the history of the country will play a major role in deciding how that change happens.
Migrant Crisis Is Eastern Europe’s Moment of Shame
By Jan T. Gross
Sep 15, 2015
As thousands of refugees pour into Europe to escape the horrors of war, with many dying along the way, a different sort of tragedy has played out in many of the European Union’s newest member states. The states known collectively as “Eastern Europe,” including my native Poland, have revealed themselves to be intolerant, illiberal, xenophobic, and incapable of remembering the spirit of solidarity that carried them to freedom a quarter-century ago.
These are the same societies that clamoured before and after the fall of communism for a “return to Europe,” proudly proclaiming that they shared its values. But what did they think Europe stands for? Since 1989 – and particularly since 2004, when they joined the EU – they have benefited from massive financial transfers in the form of European structural and cohesion funds. Today, they are unwilling to contribute anything to resolve the greatest refugee crisis facing Europe since World War II.
Indeed, before the eyes of the entire world, the government of Hungary, an EU member state, has mistreated thousands of refugees. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán sees no reason to behave otherwise: the refugees are not a European problem, he insists; they are a German problem.
Orbán is not alone in this view. Even Hungary’s Catholic bishops are following Orbán’s line, with Laszlo Kiss-Rigo, Bishop of Szeged-Csanad, saying that Muslim migrants “want to take over,” and that the Pope, who has called on every Catholic parish in Europe to take in a refugee family, “doesn’t know the situation.”
In Poland, a country of 40 million people, the government initially expressed a readiness to accept 2,000 refugees – but only Christians (Slovakia proposed a similar stipulation). Refugees are not an Eastern European problem, a Polish journalist told National Public Radio in the United States, and because these countries did not participate in the decision to bomb Libya (neither did Germany).
Have Eastern Europeans no sense of shame? For centuries, their ancestors emigrated in droves, seeking relief from material hardships and political persecution. And today their leaders’ heartless behaviour and callous rhetoric play to popular sentiment. Indeed, the electronic version of Poland’s largest newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, now publishes a stunning notice at the end of every article about refugees: “Because of the extraordinarily aggressive content of remarks advocating violence, contrary to the law, and calling for racial, ethnic, and religious hatred, we will not allow readers to publish comments.”
Not so long ago, in the immediate post-war years, Eastern European Jewish Holocaust survivors fled from the murderous anti-Semitism of their Polish, Hungarian, Slovak, or Romanian neighbours to the safety of displaced persons camps in, of all places, Germany. “Safe Among the Germans” proclaimed the title of an important book by the historian Ruth Gay about these 250,000 survivors. Now Muslim refugees and survivors of other wars, having found no refuge in Eastern Europe, also are fleeing to safety among the Germans.
In this case, history is not a metaphor. On the contrary, the root cause of the Eastern European attitudes now on grim display is to be found in World War II and its aftermath.
Consider the Poles, who, deservedly proud of their society’s anti-Nazi resistance, actually killed more Jews than Germans during the war. Although Poland’s Catholics were cruelly victimized during the Nazi occupation, they could find little compassion for the fate of Nazism’s ultimate victims. In the words of Józef Mackiewicz, a conservative, anti-Communist Polish writer with impeccable patriotic credentials: “During the occupation there was not, literally, a single person who would not have heard the saying – ‘One thing Hitler has done correctly is to wipe out the Jews.’ But one should not talk about this openly.”
Of course, there were Poles who helped Jews during the war. Indeed, the number of Polish “Righteous Among Nations,” recognized by Israel’s Yad Vashem for their wartime heroism, is the largest among all European countries (unsurprisingly, given that prewar Poland had Europe’s largest Jewish population by far). But these remarkable individuals typically acted on their own, against prevailing social norms. They were misfits who, long after the war had ended, insisted on keeping their wartime heroism a secret from their neighbours – afraid, it seems, that their own communities would otherwise shun, threaten, and ostracize them.
All occupied European societies were complicit to some degree in the Nazi effort to destroy the Jews. Each made a different contribution, depending on country-specific circumstances and conditions of German rule. But the Holocaust played out most gruesomely in Eastern Europe, owing to the sheer number of Jews in the region and the incomparable ruthlessness of the Nazi occupation regimes.
When the war ended, Germany – because of the victors’ denazification policies and its responsibility for instigating and carrying out the Holocaust – had no choice but to “work through” its murderous past. This was a long, difficult process; but German society, mindful of its historical misdeeds, has become capable of confronting moral and political challenges of the type posed by the influx of refugees today. And Chancellor Angela Merkel has set an example of leadership on migrants that puts all of Eastern Europe’s leaders to shame.
Eastern Europe, by contrast, has yet to come to terms with its murderous past. Only when it does will its people be able to recognize their obligation to save those fleeing in the face of evil.
Jan T. Gross, Professor of War and Society and Professor of History at Princeton University, is the author of Neighbours: The Destruction of the Jewish Community at Jedwabne, Polish Society under German Occupation, and Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz.
Meat Ban Is Just the Beginning: More Intolerance Is Coming
By Vir Sanghvi
Sep 15, 2015
The first thing to be said about the decision of various states to ban meat for several days because of a Jain ritual is that it is both indefensible and absurd.
It is indefensible because the basic premise of any secular society is that the State shall not use its legal and statutory powers to impose the religious practices of any one community (minority or majority) on other religious groups.
So Jains (full disclosure: I’m a Jain and some members of my family are not only vegetarian but avoid onions and garlic; happily I abstain from such restrictions on my diet) have every right to observe their own religious practices. But they cannot impose them on others. And it is completely against the spirit of a secular India for the State to use its power to force non-Jains to desist from, say, buying meat during a Jain fast or period of penance.
The ban is absurd because it is also illogical. Some bans — such as the ban on foie gras, for instance — emerge out of a concern for animals or birds who must not be treated cruelly. This ban, on the other hand, emerges out of a concern for human beings. The suggestion is that Jains might be upset if goats were slaughtered during their sacred period.
But Jains are vegetarians all the year round. So, if you want to protect Jain sensibilities, then doesn’t logic demand that you ban meat for all time? This way, all that will happen is that more chickens and goats will be slaughtered before the ban period begins as people buy meat in advance and stock their fridges.
Moreover, the Maharashtra government, in its wisdom, exempted fish from the ban. The stated reason was that fish are not slaughtered but are merely lifted out of their habitats with lines and nets. This is just silly. The fish don’t jump out voluntarily in some suicidal gesture. They are first caught and then cut open. Jains make no distinction between the killing of fish and animals or birds. So why should the government make it for them?
The second thing that needs to be said about the ban is that it aggravates Muslim fears. Muslims have little use for vegetarianism. But all Hindus, even those who eat meat, have a sneaking respect for vegetarianism. Brahmins (in most communities) are required to abstain from meat and fish. And most Hindus from other castes will always find days on which they can be vegetarian and therefore virtuous. It may be a weekly fast or a vegetarian day. Or it could be the day of a puja.
So while Hindus might object to a meat-ban on ideological grounds or because of inconvenience, they do not regard it as a huge imposition. But Muslims, who tend to eat much more meat whenever they can afford it, regard vegetarianism as an assault on their way of life.
And there is another worrying factor. A large number of slaughter houses — perhaps the majority in such states as Maharashtra — are run by Muslims. So they see the ban as an assault on their livelihood. When fishermen (most of whom are not Muslim) are excluded from this ban, then they suspect that there is a clear communal divide at work.
The third thing that needs to be said is that liberals make the mistake of looking at this ban in isolation. In fact, it is just another symbol of the Indian State’s inability (or unwillingness) to respect the divide between politics and religion.
Take the beef ban. Most Indian states ban the slaughter of cows. In some states (Haryana, for example) even the possession of beef attracts heavy penalties. It is true that the fervour with which these bans are enforced has increased since the BJP came to power. But the truth is that the bans were imposed by Congress governments. Even the Maharashtra ban that agitates us so much has its origins in a 1964 decision.
Most liberals let these bans be because a) we knew they would never be rigidly enforced (India is among the world’s largest exporters of beef) and b) because there was so much pressure from sadhus and Hindu fundamentalists that we thought it better to not resist.
It is now clear that this benign neglect was a mistake. If you don’t object to a ban on cow slaughter can you really object if the government wants to prosecute somebody who sells beef? If it is okay to ban beef to respect Hindu sentiments, then why is it wrong to ban meat to respect Jain sentiments?
But why stop at food? The problem is that all governments, under pressure from religious groups, have cheerfully trampled over secular and liberal principles to impose arbitrary restrictions in every area.
Yes, it is wrong for Muslims to be denied beef only because Hindus worship the cow. And yes it is even worse to deny them all meat because of an alleged affront to Jain sensibilities.
But it is, surely, as wrong for Hindus and Jains not to be allowed to read The Satanic Verses because of protests by Muslim groups.
Just as we say to Hindus: “Don’t eat beef if you don’t want to ,but don’t deny others the right to eat it”, we must also say to Muslims: “Don’t read The Satanic Verses if you don’t want to but don’t deny us the right to read it.”
But of course, no government ever says that. We have a long and dishonourable tradition of banning anything and everything to ‘protect religious sensibilities’. Rarely, if ever, do governments tell religious groups that if they are offended, well then, that’s too bad. It is not the job of a secular government to use its might to protect the delicate sensibilities of the easily offended.
To see the meat ban in perspective, we must move beyond today’s politics and look at a larger truth. For much too long, liberals have allowed religious groups to hijack the agenda by turning a blind eye. If all of us had stood up and said that religion and politics do not mix, we would not be in this mess today.
But we did not. And so, there will be more bans, more intolerance and more religious tyranny.
This is just the beginning.