KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – This country’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Camillo Gonsalves is also an American citizen, but that does not prevent him from acting on his diplomatic immunities after he was arrested by a cop in New York last Wednesday.
Minister of Foreign Affair Sen. Douglas Slater said Tuesday that while Gonsalves has dual citizenship, he is still entitled to all the rights and privileges the Vienna Convention accords diplomatic agents
Slater, however, said that whether a shared lobby in a building housing multiple embassies could be considered part of the territory of each of those countries, would make for “an interesting legal debate”.
He was speaking on an interactive radio programme as Vincentians continue to discuss the repercussions and avenues for redress after a New York Police Department officer arrested and handcuffed Gonsalves in the lobby of his office building last Wednesday.
Slater said on Thursday that his Unity Labour Party government would leave no stones unturned as it seeks redress and has not ruled out the possibility of legal action again the cop and the city.
But a caller to a radio programme on Tuesday asked Slater if Gonsalves’ dual citizenship and the fact that the arrest took part in the lobby of the building would affect the diplomat’s immunities.
“Camillo Gonsalves was born in the United States and therefore is and has the right of United States citizenship,” Slater said of the diplomat, who is the oldest son of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.
“However, his Vincentian citizenship is by descent — his father being Vincentian — and he therefore has the right to dual citizenship, which he enjoys now,” Slater said.
“Usually and normally, there are certain diplomatic positions where a citizens of the accepting country cannot accept it. But in this case, it is not so. He is a legitimate representative of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and enjoys the privileges and rights of any other ambassador.
“… I think in this whole fiasco that was raised; that they may consider that they may [waive] the diplomatic immunity. … My understanding is that it is not as simple as that. He was functioning as a Vincentian representative at the time of the incident and remains so. So I don’t think there is any problem there,” Slater further said.
Ambassador Gonsalves, in a report submitted to his government, said that after the incident last Wednesday, U.S. State Department personnel said that the NYPD was considering issuing him a summons for disorderly conduct, which would require him to pay a fine.
The cop has accused Gonsalves of disorderly conduct after the diplomat moved a barrier to gain access to the building, something he said he and other diplomats do frequently.
Gonsalves, according to the report, told the officials that he considered himself a victim of a police assault and may pursue his own redress to that assault. The U.S. State Department official shortly after said that the NYPD had decided not to issue any summons.
“Later that day, I was contacted by the U.S. State Department and reminded that, if I decide to pursue legal action for my assault, I would be waiving whatever jurisdictional immunities I possess as a diplomatic agent. I was informed that, if I contemplated legal action, I may become subject to a counter suit by the New York District Attorney. Responding to this, I told the State Department official that all of my legal and diplomatic options remain open at this point, and that I was unwilling to foreclose on any action under threat of counteraction,” Gonsalves said in his report.
Regarding the lobby of the building, — a common space used by the 10 or so mission in the building — Slater said that while he was not a lawyer he was reading the Vienna Convention.
“I really can’t give you an answer that I can say I am really sure of. … We think it is going to be an interesting legal debate … I was reading up the Vienna Convention and my layman’s interpretation is that the premises, and as far as I am concerned, the building … and the premises, is also inviolable. And in my opinion, the lobby of the building forms part of the total premises. That is as best as I could answer it but, certainly, the legal pundits, the lawyers, would be better able to answer that question than I can,” he said.
Both Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace are expected to speak on the arrest of Ambassador Gonsalves during separate press conferences at 1:30 p.m. and 11 a.m. today.