NEWYou can now listen to G3 Box News articles!
An accused rapist in New York City escaped charges because, as a United Nations foreign minister, he was protected by diplomatic immunity, authorities said. His case highlights a controversial policy that for years has made headlines for years.
A woman accused Charles Dickens Imene Oliha, 46, of opening the door for her as she entered her Washington Heights building, following her into her apartment and raping her twice before leaving, according to police and law enforcement sources. She reported the incident around noontime Sunday, at which point officers took Oliha into custody.
But they soon learned that Oliha was working in the states as a minister of foreign affairs from South Sudan, and that he therefore could not be charged because he had “full diplomatic immunity,” sources said.
He was released hours later. Meanwhile, the victim was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
UNITED NATIONS DIPLOMAT ACCUSED OF RAPING NYC NEIGHBOR RELEASED WITHOUT CHARGES AFTER CLAIMING IMMUNITY
Oliha, whose social media accounts indicate he is married with children, did not respond to G3 Box News Digital’s request seeking comment on Tuesday. A spokesperson for the Permanent Mission of South Sudan also did not respond to requests.
But Oliha is far from the first United Nations diplomat to escape criminal charges despite allegations of a crime, thanks to the policy of protection that has been afforded those working in the Big Apple, or elsewhere in the U.S., on behalf of their home countries.
The New York Post cited author Brian Klaas’ tome, “Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us,” in reporting that U.N. diplomats “were cited for 150,000 parking tickets that went unpaid” from 1997 to 2002 – a rate of “more than eighty per day.” The unpaid tickets reportedly reached a total of over $18 million.
RUSSIAN ‘SPIES’ AMONG US: A LOOK AT THE NEW YORK COMPOUND THAT HOUSES KREMLIN ‘INTELLIGENCE OFFICERS’
In 1997, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani slammed the U.N. for “acting like the worst kind of deadbeats,” the Post reported.
There have been times through the years that the transgressions were more serious than the likes of parking tickets and minor traffic violations, though Dr. Joshua Muravchik, an author and longtime international relations scholar, acknowledged that law-breaking is often related to “small stuff.”
In most cases, “nobody dies from it, or is as terribly hurt as a woman who is raped,” Muravchik told G3 Box News Digital. “It’s certainly rare.”
But New York City has seen its share of more serious allegations against diplomatic residents.
The husband of a U.K. diplomat who was accused of beating his wife in December 2018 was not initially arrested because he was protected by the battered woman’s own diplomatic status, according to a different report from the New York Post.
Youseff Amroche initially got off scot-free for allegedly assaulting his wife and placing her in a headlock inside their New York City apartment, but ultimately pleaded guilty to a lesser charge after U.K. officials revoked his status, according to the report.
A Sudanese diplomat was accused of groping a woman on the dance floor of a bar in Manhattan in October 2017, the Post reported.
But he was never charged after he was reportedly found to have had diplomatic immunity.
German diplomat Joachim Haubrichs was accused of dragging his wife into the couple’s bedroom and assaulting her in October 2016, after she reportedly was using her cell phone past a curfew he had set.
He was not charged because of his diplomatic immunity, and German authorities reportedly rejected a U.S. State Department effort to rescind Haubrichs’ protections after prosecutors had found evidence of a misdemeanor crime.
Zambian diplomat Langford Banda allegedly escaped criminal charges – and even any traffic tickets – after he hurt two cops when he crashed his car into an NYPD vehicle while allegedly driving drunk in February 2015, the Post reported.
According to the report, he was driving with a blood-alcohol content of nearly two times the limit. But police could only let him sleep it off before sending him home, the Post said.
In 2013, Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade was arrested and strip-searched for allegedly lying about how much she paid a housekeeper on a visa form. Despite reporting that she was paying her employee $4,500 each month, the housekeeper’s monthly salary was actually $573 – about $3.31 per hour, the New York Post reported.
NYC SUCKER-PUNCH SUSPECT BACK AT RIKERS ISLAND AFTER RELEASE ON NO BAIL FOR DOWNGRADED ATTEMPTED MURDER
Khobragade was granted diplomatic immunity and the anonymous housekeeper later slapped her with a lawsuit alleging trafficking, forced labor and wage violations, according to the Post.
Perhaps one of the most noteworthy cases in recent history involved former International Monetary Fund executive Dominique Strauss-Kahn. In 2012, Kahn tried – though unsuccessfully – to be classified as protected under diplomatic immunity from a lawsuit alleging that he sexually assaulted a maid, the G3 Box News reported.
The parties ultimately settled.
DIPLOMATS AMONG US
A U.S. Department of State spokesperson told G3 Box News Digital Tuesday there were about 47,000 accredited mission members from 189 countries resident living in the United States, including foreign personnel from bilateral missions, international organizations, and permanent missions to the United Nations.
The spokesperson also said there were about 18,000 foreign diplomats living in New York – roughly 15,000 of whom were accredited to the United Nations.
New York City boasts “the largest diplomatic and consular community in the world,” serving as the home base for the United Nations Headquarters and hosting 114 consulates and 193 permanent missions.
Scott Anderson, a visiting fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., told G3 Box News Digital that the policy of diplomatic immunity is rooted “first in customary international law in that it’s something states have extended to each other for several hundred years.”
But the policy was memorialized in a set of international treaties in the 20th century, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
“Generally speaking, it doesn’t apply to anyone who works for a foreign government,” Anderson told G3 Box News Digital. “A foreign government sends certain people who will fill certain capacities. And those capacities can entitle them to certain different types of immunities, depending on the role they fill, the types of responsibilities they have.”
The U.N. Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1946, outlines a more specific set of immunities for personnel who are assigned to work for the United Nations, Anderson explained.
“They are not necessarily immune from all legal liability from what they can do, but they can’t be arrested or detained as long as they’re entitled to the immunities,” he said.
The practice developed out of what Anderson called “a long concern” that diplomatic agents “would be detained, harassed, otherwise manipulated in a way to try to “exercise leverage over them while they’re in a host country.”
“The United States relies on these immunities really heavily itself,” he went on. “The United States is actually usually a pretty robust defender of diplomatic immunities, because it has a very large diplomatic presence all around the world, including in a lot of sometimes challenging countries and challenging legal systems.”
Dr. Muravchik, who is also an adjunct professor at The Institute of World Politics, told G3 Box News Digital that diplomatic immunity is “a real thing, and [countries] recognize it and for good reason.”
“I don’t know if you have more diplomats in any other country, but we got to be in the top rank of numbers of diplomats posted around the world because we’re such a big player globally,” he said.
Anderson and Muravchik cited times in history when a diplomat’s immunity was revoked in response to an offense, or when the diplomat was removed from the host nation and returned to his or her county.
The United Nations and the Permanent Mission of South Sudan did not respond to G3 Box News Digital’s requests for comment regarding any plans in response to the allegations against Oliha.
However, Muravchik said the police department’s inability to file charges against Oliha is “not the end of the story.”
“For the moment, we can’t touch this man, but his government can lift his diplomatic immunity,” he said. “In particular, the United States is a very influential country. We can pressure, in extreme cases, other governments where someone has committed a terrible crime on our territory to lift their diplomatic immunity.”
He added that the United States has “a great deal of influence with South Sudan.”
“We really have tremendous leverage,” Muravchik said. “The country came into existence in part thanks to US diplomatic leverage.”
In a statement to G3 Box News Digital on Tuesday, a State Department spokesperson said the agency was “aware of the incident referenced involving a diplomat accredited to the United Nations.”
“We take these allegations seriously, and we are working closely with the New York Police Department and the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs, as we do in all legal and criminal cases involving foreign diplomats assigned to Permanent Missions and Observer Offices at the UN,” the spokesperson said. “We do not comment on the specifics of ongoing investigations.”
G3 Box News’ Danielle Wallace contributed to this report.