Sunday, April 08, 2012

More Camillo Gonsalves Story

Grantley Williams posted this story from the BaJan Sun on Facebook

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The New York Police Department (NYPD) could face possible legal action as Caribbean governments respond to the detention and handcuffing of St. Vincent ambassador to the United Nations, Camillo Gonsalves. According to reports, CARICOM ambassadors sent strong protest notes to the United States ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice and to Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon expressing their outrage at the situation.

It is understood that Caribbean ambassadors spoke out against what they described as the blatant and aggressive conduct of the police officer who handcuffed Mr. Gonsalves.

Ambassador Gonsalves, himself a lawyer, is also considering the possibility of suing the officer and New York, as the officer assaulted him.

The diplomat passed through a police barricade to enter the Manhattan building when he was held by the officer who also placed him in handcuffs. It was the quick intervention of the US State Department that resulted in the release of the diplomat after he was held for 20 minutes.

Ambassador Gonsalves, son of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, in a statement released by his government, said that he was “struck or somehow bruised’’ behind his right ear and was treated at a hospital for minor injuries to his head, wrists, hand and shoulder.

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines ambassador said he was returning to his office after lunch, stepped out of his official car and walked through a barricade in front of the building — as he has done for the past five years — when he was confronted by an officer. The building houses a number of U.N. missions including Israel’s and has a 24-hour police presence, with a guard post outside.

According to Gonsalves, the officer demanded to know why he went through the barricade. He said he didn’t respond and proceeded to the elevator. He said the officer ran into the building, approached him from behind, “grabbed me by my neck and shoulders, spun me around and said, `Didn’t you see me talking to you?’’’

Gonsalves said he replied calmly: “You couldn’t have been talking to me.’’

He said the officer then demanded identification. “I said, `Why? Am I under arrest?’ He said, `Well you are now.’’’

Gonsalves said the officer tried unsuccessfully to get his hands behind his back to handcuff him, and he remained “uncooperative, but peaceful.” The backup officers who were called forced his hands behind his back and handcuffed him, he said.

He said other ambassadors with offices in the building — including the envoys of Gambia, Dominica and St. Lucia as well as his own staff — came into the lobby and began to tell the officer he was in the wrong, and that Israeli diplomats had crossed the barricades that day, just as he did. As a U.N. diplomat, Gonsalves has diplomatic immunity.

As the crowd gathered, Gonsalves said, the officer who arrested him “began to act in an uneasy manner.’’

“Apparently by way of post-hoc justification, (the) officer … said quietly to his fellow officers, but within my earshot: `I couldn’t let him just walk into the building. Look at him: he could be a terrorist,’’’ Gonsalves said.

The building is also the home to many other diplomatic missions. The majority of the diplomatic missions in the building are members of the Commonwealth, with the notable exception of Israel.

“We enter the building by means of a common lobby and shared elevator system, through which we have access to our various permanent missions and office facilities,” Gonsalves explained.

The lobby of the building is staffed by unarmed personnel, who check the identification of visitors to the building, and determine who should gain access. The lobby is also staffed by Israeli security officials, who perform separate identification and safety checks on those individuals visiting the Permanent Mission of Israel.

Uniformed police officers of the New York Police Department (NYPD) are stationed outside of the building. The NYPD officers do not engage in checking the identification of people seeking to enter the building. There is usually one NYPD officer stationed in a permanent guard post directly in front of the building. One or two other officers traditionally patrol the city block on which the building is located.

On the outside of the building, the NYPD maintains stacks of metal barricades, which normally lean against concrete structures that line that particular sidewalk. The barriers are called into use whenever political demonstrations or protests take place outside of the building. In such instances, the barricades are erected on the opposite side of the street from the Permanent Mission to contain the demonstrators, and to keep the protestors from “disturbing the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity,” as is mandated by Article 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961).

According to Gonsalves, ambassadors and other diplomatic staff, as well as delivery drivers, couriers, and pedestrians, regularly step between and around these metal rails when no demonstrations are taking place. It is the common practice for ambassadors and other diplomatic staff to be dropped off by their drivers directly in front of the building, and for those persons to step around/between the barricades, cross the sidewalk, and enter the building. The staff members of the Permanent Mission of Israel, as the largest diplomatic staff in the building, are probably the most frequent users of this particular mode of entry. However, all diplomatic staff frequently enter the building in this manner.

“Over the course of my four and one-half years as Permanent Representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the United Nations, I have regularly entered the building in this manner,” he pointed out.