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Diplomatic Immunity

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					                                          Diplomatic Immunity: What Is It
                                             and Why Is It Necessary?

                                                     Ken Petress

         Recently, in New York City, a Georgian Republic diplomat was witnessed committing an egregious act.

He was observed speeding on a residential street and killing a young woman when his car skidded out of control.

Police have reported they suspect he was under the influence of alcohol at the time. International agreements forbid

local authorities from arresting the diplomat. Diplomats are immune from arrest, trial, and punishment for acts they

commit in host nations. Most diplomats' family members, and those who officially work for them are likewise

immune. Whenever a high profile diplomat misbehaves or whenever a highly charged offense is committed by

someone with diplomatic immunity, a great howl of indignation and a cry to repeal such immunity is heard. The

recent case is no exception.

         Confusion over why diplomatic immunity exists is understand-able as the concept is unclear to most

people; and anger over crimes not being punished is expected due to our society's norms. However, immunity is

necessary for our diplomats' protection and, as events have unfolded in this most recent case, immunity is not as

iron clad as some believe.

         Most nations exchange Ambassadors, officials who represent their home counties in social, political,

economic, trade and commerce, agricultural, and other matters of mutual concern. Such representation requires that

unpopular and controversial stances, at times, be taken on sensitive issues. Such stands may unsettle, agitate, and

infuriate religious, political, and even legal leaders in host nations. Such reactions by powerful and influential local

elite might, if diplomatic immunity was not in force, prompt the arrest, trial, and punishment of Ambassadors and/or

their families and staffs. Constant arrests for petty matters could be employed to disrupt normal embassy activity.

These ambassadors live with their families and staffs in host countries. Many nations have laws that are totally

unfamiliar to foreigners; laws that are not well codified and thus are very difficult to fathom even for the most

faithful of law abiders, and laws that are connected to local religious practices which few outsiders practice.

Penalties for disobeying some of these laws are stark (ie: death or dismemberment).

         To protect foreign ambassadors, their families, and staffs from being penalized for laws unfamiliar to them

and to protect against petty, revengeful, or retaliatory arrests and punishments of each other's diplomatic staffs,
nations have entered into an agreement to excuse misdeeds of diplomats, their families, and staffs. Failure to have

such agreements would either result in no one but fools or daredevils taking such posts or those who did assume

diplomatic jobs would barricade themselves in their Embassies where they would be safe from local laws. Each

Embassy is considered to be a part of the guest nation. For example, the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand is

considered a non sovereign part of the U.S.; resident workers and guests are safe (in most cases) from intrusion,

intervention, or rules of the host nation. We remember the global shock and negative reaction when Iranians

abrogated that agreement in our Teheran Embassy in 1980-1981.

         There are implicit assumptions made in connection with such international agreements. These include: (1)

that guests will make themselves aware, as best they can, of local laws and that they will obey such rules (2) people

selected by guest nations to serve as Ambassadors and staff members will be highly respected persons; and (3) that

national leaders whose representatives seriously or frequently misbehave will call such individuals home and

replace them with superior substitutes. To ensure against repeated problems with offenders, all nations are

empowered to demand the removal of anyone found unsatisfactory to the host nation.

         The Georgian Republic President has announced that he is removing the cloak of immunity from the

diplomat in New York. That individual may now be apprehended by police, tried, and, if convicted, be sentenced.

This is the prerogative of any guest nation's leaders. It is a prerogative rarely taken; it was a courageous, proper,

and encouraging act to have been taken. Let's hope more leaders act in similar ways when their immune

representatives abuse their diplomatic status.


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