On December 15, 2009, a black Audi ran two red lights in Singapore’s Bukit Panjang district and hit three pedestrians, killing one and injuring two. Approximately 40 minutes later, Silviu Ionescu, the Romanian charge d’affairs, whom I always found to be a reclusively serious and an unsmiling character, reported his car missing. Mr Ionescu left Singapore unannounced, unusual for a diplomat, three days later, and never returned.
In March of 2010, after a coroner’s inquiry, it was confirmed that the Romanian diplomat was indeed at the wheel in the hit-and-run accident. Singapore’s request for his presence at the inquiry was not met. However, the two countries did set up a joint technical committee to pursue legal action against Ionescu.
On February 10, 2010, Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo told parliament that legal procedures needed to be respected. Eventually, Singapore filed 13 charges against him and issued an arrest warrant against him through Interpol. The Romanian government tried the diplomat at home and suspended him from service.
This is not the first time Singapore had taken a position in defence of its legal system and, in the process, earning considerable respect. In 1993, American teenager Michael Fay was caught and sentenced to caning for vandalising cars and, despite an appeal by President Bill Clinton himself, it made sure that the sentence was carried out.
Now let’s consider the case of Raymond Davis. America’s reaction so far has been dismissive of the fact that its citizens broke Pakistani law. Pakistan’s reaction has also been divided and oscillating. While it has claimed diplomatic immunity for the alleged murderer, it has refused to either identify the three occupants of the rescue car which ran over and killed a third Pakistani or hand over the said vehicle to the police.
To those familiar with the Vienna Conventions, it is clear that the accused does not qualify for the “diplomatic immunity” which is available only to “accredited diplomats”. Former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has also said that, according to advice given to him by experts, Raymond Davis “is not a diplomat and cannot be given blanket diplomatic community.” The fact of the matter is that under Vienna Conventions, it is the Foreign Office that is to determine if he enjoys immunity.
It is worth noting how differently Pakistan acted from Singapore. Instead of intimidating Pakistan, the US, which claims to champion human rights, should come forward and declare that the process of law should be respected. Pakistan, which in the past has handed over its own citizens to the US without the due process of law, needs to take a position based on honour and ensure that Raymond Davis is tried according to the law.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2011.