Diplomatic Immunity

Topics: Diplomacy, Diplomatic immunity, Diplomatic mission Pages: 6 (1816 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Diplomatic Immunity


United Kingdom, 1982

While unloading the ship which carried the embassy's materials, one box marked "household effects" dropped from a forklift. More than six hundred pounds of marijuana worth 500,000 British pounds (1982 prices) spilled dockside.

For centuries governments have used ambassadors, and diplomats to represent their nation. These special envoys have done everything from resolving years of conflict, deciding on how much humanitarian relief will be sent to a nation, or just being present at diplomatic dinners and ceremonies. These people have been the vital link between nations, and they have enjoyed complete immunity from the law of the host nation. Originally this immunity was extended as a courtesy to allow for an uneventful stay in the host country. While in a foreign country on official business, the diplomat would be granted exemption from arrest or detention by local authorities; their actions not subject to civil or criminal law. For the longest time this privilege produced little or no incidents. However, this unique position of freedom that diplomats, their family, and staff have been graced with has not been so ideal. Recently the occurrences of abuse for personal or national gain has grown out of proportion. What once protected the diplomat and his staff from parking tickets and some differing social laws, now grants them protection under the law to commit crimes such as drug trafficking, kidnapping, rape, and murder. Even though serious crimes are rare and punishable to various extents in most countries, domestic authorities were forced to look the other way. While it would be convenient to believe that the six hundred pounds of marijuana was sent for personal consumption at the embassy, it is evident a small drug trafficking ring was being protected under the guise of diplomatic immunity.


The international community has tried to develop a universally accepted set of norms governing the conduct and privileges of diplomats abroad. These few Articles from the convention show the good faith of the convention:

Article 29: Diplomats are inviolable; exempt from any arrest/detention.

Article 31: Diplomats are exempt from criminal jurisdiction, they can be tried only if immunity is waived.

Article 32: Only the sending country can waive immunity

Article 41: Diplomats should still respect the laws and regulations of the host state.

Baring few changes, the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations remains the basis for interaction between states. This convention tackles the problem by dividing the privileges of immunity into four classes. The diplomat and his family enjoy "complete" immunity. They cannot be arrested, detained or taxed. They do not fall into the realm of jurisdiction of the host country. Further they cannot be asked to stand trial or submit to having their possessions searched. The diplomatic staff are granted these same rights while performing official diplomatic business. Private servants have only been granted immunity from taxation. The privilege of complete immunity allows for the use of the "diplomatic pouch". This not an actual pouch, rather it is the power to declare any belongings off limits. The crate being removed from the ship (above story) was considered diplomatic pouch.

The introduction of the term "diplomatic pouch"; brings us to one of the major problems with the standards regarding conduct of diplomats. Originally the concept of diplomatic pouch was used to permit secrecy on official visits by foreign staff. This policy of ultimate secrecy becomes important when diplomats are venturing into unfriendly territory. Further, an explicit trust is granted to the diplomats to allow for free communication between the diplomat and their sending country. However this gracious offer of trust allows for easy abuse. A British foreign affairs committee declared, "The only way, in fact, to find out...
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