Diplomatic immunity is a part of international law that states that representatives of foreign governments are exempted from the jurisdiction of local courts as well as other authorities. This law is not a new concept as it can be traced back to ancient times where messengers were allowed to cross different territories without fear of being harmed. Diplomatic immunity is a concept that was established by the Vienna conventions of 1961 and 1963, granting immunity to diplomats depending on their position and the amount of immunity they required to carry out their mission without fear of any legal harassment. Diplomatic immunity gives the diplomat the freedom to work in foreign countries without having fully understood the laws and customs of the nation. This however does not imply that the diplomats have the right to show disrespect to the laws of the host country but are expected to follow the laws and regulations of the host nation.
According to e-Diplomat, “The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 codified most modern diplomatic and consular practices, including diplomatic immunity”. These treaties were signed by more than 160 counties; the treaties gave immunity to individuals in accordance to their ranks in the diplomatic mission or consular post. Immunity is also provided for according to the need in the performance of duties by the diplomatic personnel. For example, the diplomatic agents and members of their immediate families are protected from criminal prosecution and most civil law suits. On the other hand, the administrative and the technical staff members of the embassies only have limited protection from the law these members are entitled to protection only when they perform actions that are related to their duties. It is however important to know that the exemptions of the diplomatic staff may be waived by the home country. The host country also has the right to declare any member of the diplomatic staff as unwanted, without any explanations. In such cases, the home country has to recall the individual or terminate his or her services with the mission. In situations where the diplomatic immunity has been misused, the Vienna Conventions explains the measures to be taken by both the host and the home country. In a nutshell, members of the diplomatic community are entitled to immunities and privileges which include protections from prosecutions, arrests/detainment, searches, and may not be subpoenaed as witnesses (e-Diplomat, 2010).
Misuse Of The Diplomatic Immunity:
Abuse of the diplomatic immunity came to limelight in the United States in the 90s due to increased media coverage. The abuse ranged from parking violations to more profound criminal offences like domestic abuse and rape. It is on the record that in 1995, the then Mayor of New York City Mr. Rudolf Giuliani forgave a sum of $800,000 in parking tickets that had been accumulated by the foreign diplomats. This clearly indicates how the US government has missed to collect or erased debts that are related to diplomats in what can be defined as outright abuse of diplomatic immunity. In 1983, the New York City Police Department suspected a diplomat’s son of fifteen counts of rape but due to the diplomatic immunity, the suspect was not prosecuted and was allowed to leave the country without facing the law. The US citizens and businesses are also disadvantaged when filing for civil claims against the diplomats especially regarding cases of debts that have not been paid. Citizens who are either landlords or creditors are not able to access the apartments rented to the diplomats to evict them since they are protected by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act which stipulates that any property in the US belonging to a foreign country will be protected from attachment, arrest, and execution. Abuse of the diplomatic immunity has also been observed in family relationships especially in regard to child support and maintenance. The United Nations in particular has been caught in this dispute for refusing to garnishee the wages of those diplomats that have neglected their responsibility for child support citing the sovereign immunity (Farlex, 2009).
There are cases where diplomats are exempted from facing the full force of the law just because their home country refuses to lift the immunity as the case of US Marine attached to the American embassy in Bucharest, a Mr. Christopher Van Goethem who on 3rd December 2004, caused an accident killing a veteran Romanian rock musician but was not prosecuted due to diplomatic immunity clause (Todayinsingapore, 2009). The Obama administration has issued an Executive Order that has extended the diplomatic immunity to the INTERPOL. The Order prohibits the US law enforcement agents from searches and seizures of INTERPOL records. This can be taken as an abuse of the diplomatic immunity since the constitution provides for the protection of the citizens from abuses of the government power. The provision in the Fourth Amendment protects citizens regardless of whether the law enforcer is foreign or local (Beaufort Observer Online, 2010).
From the above arguments, it is quite clear that diplomatic immunity is prone to abuse. The Vienna Conventions were explicit that the people enjoying the privileges and immunities under the diplomatic immunity clause had to respect the laws and regulations laid down by the host nation. Nevertheless, the diplomatic immunity is on record as leading to unfortunate events where the diplomats violates the laws of the host nation and that the host country may be limited to inform the foreign country that its diplomat is unwanted. Since there are increasing incidents of abuse of the immunity, there should be a spirited call for the abolishment and/or review of the diplomatic immunity clause.
Beaufort Observer Online, Inc. (2010). INTERPOL immunity: what could it mean? Retrieved on 7th January 2010 from; http://www.beaufortobserver.net/Articles-c-2010-01-04 241383.112112_INTERPOL_immunity_what_could_it_mean.html
Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. (2009). Diplomatic immunity. Retrieved on 7th January 2010 from; http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/931495/diplomatic-immunity.
e-Diplomat. (2010). Diplomatic Immunity. Retrieved on 7th January 2010 from; http://www.ediplomat.com/nd/diplomatic_immunity.htm
Farlex, Inc. (2009). Diplomatic Immunity. Retrieved on 7th January 2010 from; http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Diplomatic+Immunity.
Goodman, E. (2009). Without Diplomatic Immunity. Retrieved on 7th January 2010 From; http://missionsmisunderstood.com/2009/12/28/without-diplomatic-immunity/
Todayinsingapore. (2010). The Calm Before The Diplomatic Storm. Retrieved on 7th January 2010 from; http://todayinsingapore.wordpress.com/2010/01/06/the-calm-before-the-diplomatic-storm/
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