Patna: In a rare instance, exactly one year after a women’s rights activist lodged a police complaint against UNFPA India Chief Diego Palacios and his Assistant Ena Singh – accusing Palacios of sexual harassment – Bihar police have found the latter guilty.
A senior police officer from Patna confirmed to Newsclick that despite push and pressure from “above”, a chargesheet against Palacios has been ordered by the CID branch of the state police, which is probing into the case.
Palacios, who enjoys diplomatic immunity, reportedly fled from India immediately after an FIR was registered against him in February 2018, amid growing public protests in India. A criminal chargesheet is a prerequisite for several measures, including arrest and extradition request so that Palacios can be produced before a court in Patna, Bihar. The case is first of its kind where a United Nations executive has faced criminal investigation, and may be arrested and tried in a criminal court of justice, a police officer told Newsclick here.
The women’s rights campaigner had alleged that Palacios sexually harassed her on various occasion during his Bihar visit in March 2017, and subsequently retaliated for breaking her silence by closing her campaign against child marriage. Patna Police had lodged complaint against Diego Palacios and Ena Singh under IPC 354(A), 507, 509, and 34 after widespread protest as well as an online campaign.
In context of the diplomatic immunity and the ‘high-profile’ nature of the case, the Bihar government has transferred the investigation to the CID branch, which has roped in External Affairs Ministry to seek cooperation from UNFPA to proceed with the investigation. Despite several requests and protests in various countries, including London, Geneva and New Delhi, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has refused to lift the immunity of the accused. On the contrary, a parallel internal investigation was initiated, which, in its report last year, had dismissed the allegations. Both UN Secretary General and UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem had refused to meet the victim during their India visit despite several requests.
Police sources informed Newsclick that credible and sufficient evidence has been collected during investigation, which involved use of forensic science to have a "water tight" case against Palacios. It is also learnt that investigation against Ena Singh to gather more evidence is underway.
Chargesheet against Palacios is likely to see renewed global activism against UNFPA and its role in undermining the criminal investigation in India. It also has to be seen how much diplomatic pressure India can exert on UN to produce Palacios before Bihar police.
Also read: Campaigners Object to the Findings of UNFPA Internal Enquiry Report