Editorial: Diplomatic impunity

Last updated 05:00 04/07/2014

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OPINION: Just as a diplomatic incident threatened to escalate between New Zealand and Malaysia, good sense has prevailed.

The Malaysian Government's announcement that diplomat Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail will return to New Zealand to help police with their inquiries into an alleged sex attack in Wellington is a save the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade here can be very thankful for.

Mfat's conduct throughout this sordid saga is lamentable.

Despite being accused of attempting to rape a Wellington woman in her own home, Rizalman was allowed to leave the country, claiming diplomatic immunity, after a series of miscommunications, inattention and incompetence by Mfat officials. In the ethereal world of diplomacy, where political interests are shrouded in nuance and couched in honey-coated doublespeak, it should have been made crystal clear to the Malaysian authorities that invoking diplomatic immunity in order to flee the country and evade prosecution here was not a palatable option.

Instead, as Mfat chief executive John Allen admitted, the ministry dropped the ball.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, who was left out of the loop, has been left embarrassed by the revelations, which emerged only after a successful court challenge from Fairfax Media overturned a suppression order which prevented Rizalman or his country from being named.

Like any good career bureaucrat Allen apologised to the victim of the alleged attack, but she would have been entitled to feel badly let down by her own people. The allegations are extremely serious and it beggars belief that clumsy diplomacy was employed instead of a forceful statement of this country's desire to see justice done.

Even so, Malaysia was under no legal obligation to involve itself. Certainly, it has taken time and some angry domestic reaction it does not need following its mishandling of the investigation into missing flight MH370, but the Malaysian Government has done the decent thing. How strange that the good guys here are the Malaysian authorities. They have succeeded in making our foreign affairs people look positively third rate. That's quite a diplomatic coup.

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- The Southland Times

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