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  • Kingstown to raise with President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton the arrest of a its U.N. envoy in New York.
  • ‘An incident like this can’t just go like that with a handshake. …  we, as small, developing countries, black people, ought not to be intimidated.’ – Foreign Minister.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Sen. Douglas Slater (File photo)

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The need for security at diplomatic missions is no excuse for the arrest of Camillo Gonsalves, this country’s ambassador to the United Nations, outside his office building in New York on Wednesday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sen. Douglas Slater said Thursday morning.

Gonsalves on Wednesday night received medical attention at a New York hospital for injuries to his left hand and shoulder, sustained when a New York Police Department (NYPD) officer handcuffed him as he made his way to his office.

The NYPD said Thursday that Gonsalves was arrested and placed in handcuffs after he refused to identify himself.

“The officer asked the ambassador to stop, he refused, he continued and entered into the location, and the officers followed him into the location,” the NYPD said in a brief statement.

Slater said on Thursday that the Unity Labour Party administration, headed by Gonsalves’ father, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, would “leave no stones unturned” in its quest to seek redress.

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The government on Thursday morning had already assembled a team of lawyers to travel to New York and had been contacted by civil rights activists in the United States.

“Something like that needs to be investigated,” said Slater, who rejected the cop’s explanation that Gonsalves behaved disorderly. “We don’t accept that. I trust the account given by Ambassador Gonsalves.”

He said an investigation would “make a lot of sense” because of the surveillance cameras outside the building and Gonsalves welcomes an inquiry into the incident “so that they will see for themselves … exactly what happened.

“As you would imagine, it is a serious and important diplomatic incident,” Slater further said, adding that Kingstown had held discussions with its ambassador in Washington and Prime Minister Gonsalves.

“… we are leaving no stones unturned to get whatever redress we think is necessary,” he said. “There is no reason to believe that after being there for five years, you have never heard of any incidents of disrespect, … he will just all of a sudden demonstrate a behavioural pattern that necessitate his arrest by New York police. It just doesn’t sound right, logical.”

And while Kingstown had assembled a legal team to send to New York, Slater said that his government had been approached “by very leading civil rights leaders in the United States” and was “waiting to make some decision”.

He noted that the arrest of Gonsalves “comes on the heels of the Trayvon Martin incident in Florida and you never know the reasons for such action”. George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch captain, shot and killed an unarmed Martin this month and the case has spurred public outrage and debate about racial profiling.

‘Astounded’ but trying to understand

camillo gonsalves
Ambassador Camillo Gonsalves (U.N. file photo).

Slater said that while he was “astounded” by Gonsalves’ arrest, he was also trying to understand the logic behind the cop’s actions.

“Was he ignorant of who the persons was? That is possible. For that to be so, he had to be a rookie, a new guy on the block. And … if he is ignorant, I think the NYPD has something to explain. I would imagine, if you are going to put a police officer to guard diplomatic buildings, you are to coach them and direct them accordingly as to how they are expected to behave,” Slater said.

He said that while security officers at a building housing diplomatic missions might not know every diplomat, “that in itself … should suggest that you …, in a very cautious and appropriate manner, fit in with what is expected at a diplomatic mission”.

“You should not be going and assuming – despite, I understand, the need for security – … that everybody who passes there is a terrorist or a threat. The onus is on you to find some way not to infringe on the diplomatic rights and privileges of the bona fide persons who enter and leave that building. So, I don’t see that as an excuse. … It is for you to ensure that you don’t cross that line and I think that they have some explaining to do,” Slater said.

The incident took place outside the building which houses the Israeli mission, which has added security.

NYDP comments could ‘aggravate situation’

Slater, responding to Internet accounts of an NYDP spokesperson’s comments on the development, said that the NYPD “may aggravate the situation if they suggest that Ambassador [Gonsalves] was behaving in a way that he certainly wasn’t”.

“That would be adding insult to injury,” he further said, adding that the matter is a “delicate” one.

He noted the “very excellent relationship” this country has with the United States and said that while the development is unrelated to those relations, “an incident like this can’t just go like that with a handshake”.

“… we have been in contact with the State Department and I am certain discussions will continue,” Slater said, adding that he and Gonsalves plan to raise the incident with U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at the Summit of the Americas in two weeks.

“These are things that we, as small, developing countries, black people, ought not to be intimidated. We must stand our ground. Stand for respect. We are a sovereign country with equal rights in the United Nations as the biggest country and respect is always due, both ways.

“We should respect the host country and their laws and I have no reason to believe that Ambassador did not. And therefore, we know that sometimes things happen that is not necessary a policy of the host country. But that is not to say when these incidents occur that we must not expose it for what it is,” Slater further said.

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