Indian activists outraged as Saudi diplomat accused of raping Nepali maids flees

Demonstrators from the All India Democratic Women's Association shout slogans and hold placards during a protest outside Saudi Arabia's embassy in New Delhi on Sept 10, 2015.
Demonstrators from the All India Democratic Women's Association shout slogans and hold placards during a protest outside Saudi Arabia's embassy in New Delhi on Sept 10, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (REUTERS)- The departure of a Saudi diplomat accused of repeatedly raping and torturing two Nepali maids in his home outside Delhi sparked outrage in India on Thursday (Sept 17) with activists calling on the United Nations to pressure Riyadh to take up the matter.

Citing the diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention, India's foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup confirmed in a statement late on Wednesday that Majed Hassan Ashoor, the first secretary at the Saudi embassy, had left India.

"We realise that the laws and conventions are such that there is little India could have done to prevent him from leaving," said Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association.

"The focus and pressure has to be on the Saudis to take it up and ensure the victims get justice. You can't have allegations of a rape racket in your bedroom and think you can get away with it without any investigation."

The international community, including the United Nations and influential countries like the United States, should put pressure on the Saudis to pursue the matter, added Krishnan.

Indian police last week rescued the two women, aged 30 and 50, from Ashoor's luxury apartment after a tip-off from an anti-human trafficking group and the Nepali embassy.

The women told police they were gang raped, assaulted, tortured and starved while held captive for over three months. The women said they were raped by eight men on one occasion. Medical examinations showed evidence of rape and sodomy.

The women came from remote rural parts of Nepal and were sent to Saudi Arabia as domestic servants by human traffickers before returning to New Delhi with their employer.

The Saudi Embassy did not respond to requests for comment, but in an earlier statement said the allegations were false.

Ravi Kant, human rights lawyer and co-founder of anti-trafficking charity Shakti Vahini, said the case demonstrated the need for a review of the Vienna Convention, which grants diplomats immunity from arrest, criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits when they are posted overseas.

"What message is this sending? That as a national of a rich nation, you can come here and perpetrate such brutal crimes against poor women with no repercussions?" said Kant. "The convention needs to be changed to waive immunity for heinous crimes like sexual violence and murder. It's a black spot on all of us if nothing is done. The UN needs to look into changing this convention." Senior officials at the UN office in New Delhi were not immediately available for comment.

Nepal's Ambassador to India Deep Kumar Upadhyay said Kathmandu would examine what more could be done. "It is our duty to ensure justice to the victims. It's a very inhumane issue but a very complicated diplomatic one as it involves three countries - Nepal, India and Saudi Arabia," Upadhyay told local news channel NDTV.

Impoverished Nepal has over one million nationals working in Saudi Arabia and is highly dependent on remittances sent by these migrants who are employed in sectors such as construction and domestic work.