A protest against Canada PM Justin Trudeau over his remarks alleging Indian involvement in the killing of a Sikh extremist leader in Canada, in New Delhi on 24 September. India has now asked Canada to withdraw 41 of its diplomats from India by 10 October. PTI
The India-Canada standoff has been ongoing for weeks now. While Justin Trudeau has softened his stand after accusing the Indian government of being involved in the killing of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, New Delhi continues to hit back. Canada has been told to withdraw dozens of diplomats from India.
According to a report in Financial Times (FT), New Delhi has asked Ottawa to fly back 41 diplomats employed across India and has set a deadline of 10 October. Canada reportedly has 62 diplomats in the country. India has also threatened to revoke the diplomatic immunity of Canadian officials if they remain on its soil after the date.
We explain the consequences if India acts on its warning and Canada’s response.
What is diplomatic immunity?
Diplomatic immunity is a form of legal protection and policy held between two nations to safeguard diplomats and ensure their safe passage when on foreign soil. Those who represent their country abroad enjoy diplomatic immunity.
The custom of diplomatic immunity dates back over 100,000 years, according to a report in Thought.Co. It was given to messengers who delivered messages to other kingdoms on behalf of their rulers.
Greek heralds, who were recognised as inviolable by the city-states, procured safe passage for envoys before negotiations. The law of diplomatic immunity was further developed by the Romans and it guaranteed safety to ambassadors even if war broke out, according to Britannica.
Diplomatic immunity in modern times is defined by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in 1961.
What does the Vienna Convention say about diplomatic immunity?
The Vienna Convention has been agreed to by 187 countries including India.
It states that all “diplomatic agents” including “the members of the diplomatic staff, and of the administrative and technical staff and the service staff of the mission” should be granted “immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving [S]tate.” They are also granted immunity from civil lawsuits unless the case involves funds or property not related to diplomatic assignments, reports Thought.Co.
According to the Vienna Convention, the emissaries are classified by assignments: embassy, consular, and international organisation. There is one embassy per foreign country, which is often in the Capital city of the other nation. In India, the embassies are in New Delhi. The chief official of the embassy is the ambassador, who is his country’s official representative.
Diplomats and administrative and technical staff posted in an embassy get immunity along with their family members, as per the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
A foreign nation has several consulates, often in locations where a large population of its citizens live or visit and these are headed by the consul. Diplomats working in consulates get diplomatic immunity except for charges of serious crimes if a warrant is issued. However, their families do not get immunity, according to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, reports The Indian Express.
Can diplomatic immunity be withdrawn?
Article 9 of the Vienna Convention says that the receiving State may at any time and without having to explain its decision, notify the sending State that the head of the mission or any member of the diplomatic staff of the mission is persona non grata or that any other member of the staff of the mission is not acceptable. In any such case, the sending State shall, as appropriate, either recall the person concerned or terminate his functions with the mission
The Vienna Convention says that a receiving state may declare a diplomat persona non-grata if they violate privileges or misuse immunity. If the official behaves aggressively towards the state and risks its security, according to a blog on ipleaders, a portal that gives insight into legal issues. A state can declare foreign diplomats persona non grata to pressure their home nation.
What action has India taken against Canada?
India has asked Canada to repatriate roughly 40 diplomats. One person was quoted by Financial Times as saying said India had threatened to revoke the diplomatic immunity of diplomats who remained in the country after 10 October.
After Trudeau’s bombshell claim that triggered a diplomatic crisis, India suspended new visas for Canadians and asked Ottawa to reduce its diplomatic presence in the country.
Canada had said last month that they are pulling out diplomats following India’s request. Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said that both countries will be reducing their strength and rank of diplomats in New Delhi and Ottawa for mutual staff parity, “pursuant” to a request by India.
How has Canada reacted to New Delhi’s new warning on diplomats?
On 3 October, the day the FT report was published, Justin Trudeau asserted that Canada was not trying to “escalate” the diplomatic crisis with India, and described the current phase of the relation with New Delhi as “extremely challenging”.
The Canadian PM said his country needed to have diplomats on the ground in India. “Obviously, we’re going through an extremely challenging time with India right now,” he was quoted as saying by FT.
Mélanie Joly, Canada’s foreign minister, added that Ottawa would continue to talk to India about the situation “We think that diplomatic conversations are best when they remain private,” she told the newspaper.
Canada wants private talks with India to resolve a diplomatic dispute over the murder of Nijjar, Joly said on Tuesday. “We are in contact with the government of India. We take Canadian diplomats’ safety very seriously and we will continue to engage privately because we think diplomatic conversations are best when they remain private,” Joly told reporters.
With inputs from agencies