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Let the chips fall where they may

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Why do we keep on making headlines for the wrong reasons? The New York Post, it appears, was the first to carry the story in terms that were not complimentary, but instead scathing: “UN diplomat protected by immunity after allegedly slugging wife”. It continued the next day, “Neighbours have choice words for diplomat who allegedly punched wife”. The original story stated, “But officers couldn’t bust the ‘thug-in-a-suit’” because of his diplomatic status. At first, I paid little attention, having not recognized the face that was featured in the story.

The question of diplomatic immunity has always been a ticklish one for New York authorities, since some diplomats often abuse their privileges. I remember a story years ago about a Nigerian who had committed hundreds of traffic violations, but could not be prosecuted. When I found out that the story was about one of our own at the Permanent Mission to the UN, my response was “Oh my! Not again!”

The story commanded the kind of attention it did since it appeared to have happened the day before the UN designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This is a day on which the UN invites governments and different bodies to organize activities to raise awareness of the problem of violence against women.  This is not a family matter, so it cannot be easily swept under the carpet. The story was carried by other New York papers and our regional media. The persons involved are representatives of our country. Put this against a “UNDP-UN Women” report that lists Latin America and the Caribbean as the most violent region in the world for women and we know that we have a problem and are getting the wrong kind of publicity. When persons are sent abroad to represent our country, in whatever capacity, they have always to keep in mind that they are there not in their individual capacities, but as representatives of a government and people.

A number of things have to be put on the table. More often than not, persons are sent abroad as representatives not because they have the necessary skills and temperament, but as a reward for services rendered for whatever party is in power. This is not the first time we have been so embarrassed. We have also done a poor job with persons who come here as investors. The case of Ames still stands out. Many Vincentians are yet to be paid for services to his Buccament Bay Resort.

These things are often seen as seven-day wonders and then shelved in the back of our memories. As I write this column, I am told that the accused diplomat is called home for consultation and the wife urged not to report to work until further notice. We wait to see the final outcome, but it is a serious matter that cannot be lightly dismissed. Instead, the way it is handled should send a powerful message to would-be transgressors about gender-based violence. SVG is seen in some quarters as a place that presents tremendous difficulties for women, with rape and violence often highlighted. Violence, verbal or physical, against women must be strongly condemned and dealt with; in fact, violence directed against anyone, male or female! Let us pay careful attention to persons sent to represent us abroad. The country’s image is at stake. There was much of a hullabaloo recently about the perceived negative image sent abroad by two or three protestors making a statement through their placards. Now, we have major newspapers in New York and the region highlighting this embarrassing incident. And some of us have gone on the defensive!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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