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Govt likely to back Davis’s immunity

February 15, 2011

Raymond Davis was arrested on January 27 after shooting dead two Pakistani motorcyclists. — Photo by Reuters

ISLAMABAD, Feb 15: The government is expected to concede before the Lahore High Court on Thursday that jailed American official Raymond Davis, accused of murdering two men last month, qualifies for diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention. “The LHC will be informed that the US embassy’s notification of Jan 20 in respect of Raymond Davis, intimating his appointment as a member of the administrative and technical staff, made him eligible for immunity under the Vienna Convention,” an official told Dawn on Tuesday.

But, at the same time, the government would inform the court that the country’s laws and foreign ministry’s regulations required him to be registered with the authorities as a diplomat, which could not be done because of certain unresolved queries, the official said.

The court would be told that the system of accreditation being followed here was neither in accordance with the international law nor prevalent in many countries, including the US, he said, adding that the matter would then be left for the court to interpret.

The government counsel is expected to testify on Davis’s diplomatic status when the LHC reconvenes on Feb 17 to carry on hearing of petitions under public interest laws for blocking his release and return to the United States.

LHC Chief Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry had on Feb 1 ruled that “whether he has or does not have (diplomatic) immunity will be decided by the court”.

The official position, although still not publicly disclosed, was finalised at a high-level meeting convened to devise a strategy for the visit of US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, who jetted into Pakistan on Tuesday with a tough diplomatic mission to end the stand-off on immunity for Davis.

Washington has suspended high-level contacts with Pakistan because of the diplomatic spat and threatened to cut off aid, which is believed to be crucial for Pakistan’s economy.

The foreign ministry, which had been tasked with preparing a reply to the LHC query on Davis’s status, submitted its position to the law ministry for vetting and presentation before the court.

Under the Pakistan Diplomatic and Consular Privileges Act of 1972, “if any question arises whether or not any person is entitled to the privilege or immunity under this act, a certificate issued by or under the authority of the federal government stating any fact relating to the question shall be conclusive evidence of that fact”.

Davis, whose multiple identities as a US defence contractor, an American consulate staffer in Lahore, diplomat assigned to the US embassy in Islamabad and someone working with the US consulate in Peshawar emerged during the 19-day row over his status, claims to have fatally shot the two victims in self-defence on Jan 27, but police believe otherwise and have accused him of cold blooded murder.

During the entire controversy, the government has articulately maintained silence over the issue, though some functionaries have in private discussions contested the American claim of immunity for the accused.