Diplomatic immunity is a form of legal immunity and a policy held between governments, which
ensures that diplomats are given safe passage and are considered not susceptible to lawsuit or
prosecution under the host country's laws (although they can be expelled). It was agreed as
international law in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), though the concept and
custom have a much longer history. Many principles of diplomatic immunity are now considered to be
customary law. Diplomatic immunity as an institution developed to allow for the maintenance of
government relations, including during periods of difficulties and even armed conflict. When receiving
diplomats — formally, representatives of the sovereign (head of state) — the receiving head of state
grants certain privileges and immunities to ensure that they may effectively carry out their duties, on
the understanding that these will be provided on a reciprocal basis. As one article put it: "So why do we
agree to a system in which we're dependent on a foreign country's whim before we can prosecute a
criminal inside our own borders? The practical answer is: because we depend on other countries to
honor our own diplomats' immunity just as scrupulously as we honor theirs."
Originally, these privileges and immunities were granted on a bilateral, ad hoc basis, which led to
misunderstandings and conflict, pressure on weaker states, and an inability for other states to judge
which party was at fault. Various international agreements known as the Vienna Conventions codified
the rules and agreements, providing standards and privileges to all states.
It is possible for the official's home country to waive immunity; this tends to only happen when the
individual has committed a serious crime, unconnected with their diplomatic role (as opposed to, say,
allegations of spying), or has witnessed such a crime. Alternatively, the home country may prosecute
the individual. Many countries refuse to waive immunity as a matter of course; individuals have no
authority to waive their own immunity (except perhaps in cases of defection).
o 1.1 Ancient times
o 1.2 The beginnings of modern immunity
o 2.1 Espionage
o 2.2 Car crime
2.2.1 Injury and death
2.2.2 United Nations parking violations
2.2.3 Other car crime
o 2.3 Financial abuse
2.3.1 Bad debts
2.3.2 Employer abuse
2.3.5 Tax avoidance or evasion
3 In fiction and reality
4 Exceptions to the Vienna Convention
5 Diplomatic immunity in the United States
7 See also
8 External links
The sanctity of diplomats has been observed for centuries. Most likely, the immunity of diplomatic
staff rises from the immunity of the messengers sent on the battlefield.
] Ancient times
Before the evolution of the international justice, many wars were considered rebellions or unlawful by
one or more combatant sides. In such cases, the servants of the "criminal" sovereign were often
considered accomplices and their persons violated. In other circumstances, harbingers of inconsiderable
demands were killed as a declaration of war. Herodotus records that when heralds of the Persian king
Darius the Great demanded "earth and water" (i.e., symbols of submission) of various Greek cities, the
Athenians threw them into a pit and the Spartans threw them down a well (suggesting they would find
both earth and water at the bottom) (Hdt. 7.133).
A Roman envoy was urinated on as he was leaving the city of Carthage. The oath of the
envoy: "This stain will be washed away with blood!" was fulfilled by the Second Punic War. The arrest
and ill-treatment of the envoy of Raja Raja Chola by the Chera King led to the Kandalur War.[citation
As diplomats by definition enter the country under safe-conduct, violating them is normally viewed as
a great breach of honour, although there have been a number of cases where diplomats have been killed.
Genghis Khan and the Mongols were well-known for strongly insisting on the rights of diplomats, and
they would often take horrific vengeance against any state that violated these rights.
In 1538, King Francis I of France threatened Edmund Bonner — Henry VIII's Ambassador to the
French court and later Bishop — with a hundred strokes of the halberd as punishment for Bonner's
"insolent behaviour". Though in the event the punishment was not actually inflicted, the incident
clearly indicates that European monarchs at the time did not consider foreign ambassadors to be
immune from punishment.
[The beginnings of modern immunity
The British Parliament first guaranteed diplomatic immunity to foreign ambassadors in 1709, after
Count Andrey Matveyev, a Russian resident in London, had been subjected by British bailiffs to verbal
and physical abuse.
Modern diplomatic immunity evolved parallel to the development of modern diplomacy. In the
seventeenth century European diplomats realized that protection from prosecution was essential to
doing their jobs and a set of rules evolved guaranteeing the rights of diplomats. These were still
confined to Western Europe, and were closely tied to the prerogatives of nobility. Thus an
emissary to the Ottoman Empire could expect to be arrested and imprisoned upon the outbreak of
hostilities between their state and the empire. The French Revolution also disrupted this system as the
revolutionary state and Napoleon imprisoned a number of diplomats accused of working against France.
More recently, the Iran hostage crisis is universally considered a violation of diplomatic immunity
(although the hostage takers did not officially represent the state, host countries have an obligation to
protect diplomatic property and personnel). On the other hand, in the Second World War, diplomatic
immunity was upheld and the embassies evacuated through neutral countries.
For the upper class of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, diplomatic immunity was an easy concept to
understand. The first "embassies" were not permanent establishments, but actual visits by
high-ranking representatives of the sovereign (often their close relatives), or even the sovereign in
person. As various permanent representations evolved, usually on a treaty basis between two powers,
these also were frequently staffed by relatives of the sovereign or high-ranking nobles.
Warfare was not between individuals but between their sovereigns, and the officers and officials of
European governments and armies often changed employers. Truces and ceasefires were commonplace,
along with fraternization between officers of enemy armies during them. When prisoners, the officers
usually gave their parole and were only restricted to a city away from the theatre of war. Almost
always, they were given leave to carry their personal sidearms. Even during French
revolutionary wars, British scientists visited the French Academy. In such an atmosphere, it was easy to
accept that some persons were immune to the laws. After all, they were still bound by strict
requirements of honour and customs.
In the nineteenth century the Congress of Vienna system reasserted the rights of diplomats, and they
have been largely respected since then as the European model has spread throughout the world.
Nowadays diplomatic immunity, as well as diplomatic relations as a whole, are governed
internationally by Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations which has been ratified by almost every
country in the world.
In modern times, diplomatic immunity continues to provide a means, albeit imperfect, to safeguard
diplomatic personnel from any animosity that might arise between nations.
A double parked car with diplomatic tags in San Francisco, California.
The Vienna Convention is explicit that "without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the
duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the
receiving State." Nevertheless, in some occasions, diplomatic immunity leads to some unfortunate
results; protected diplomats have violated laws (including those which would be violations at home as
well) of the host country and that country has been essentially limited to informing the diplomat's
nation that the diplomat is no longer welcome (persona non grata). Diplomatic agents are not, however,
exempt from the jurisdiction of their home state, and hence prosecution may be undertaken by the
sending state; for minor violations of the law, the sending state may impose administrative procedures
specific to the foreign service or diplomatic mission.
Violation of the law by diplomats has included espionage, smuggling, child custody law violations,
rape, and even murder: in London in 1984, policewoman Yvonne Fletcher was killed on the street by a
person shooting from inside the Libyan embassy. The incident caused a breakdown in diplomatic
relations until Libya admitted "general responsibility" in 1999.
Minor espionages, or gathering information of host countries are conducted in every embassy. A
typical position for an intelligence officer is as second press attaché, visa attaché or other
position with no clear responsibilities. In the United States, it is a policy of the Foreign Service not to
confirm or deny the existence of intelligence personnel in U.S. embassies.
 Car crime
A particular problem is the immunity of diplomatic vehicles to ordinary traffic regulations such as
prohibitions on double parking. Occasionally, such problems may take a most serious turn, when
disregard for traffic rules leads to bodily harm or death.
 Injury and death
The deputy ambassador of the Republic of Georgia to the United States, Gueorgui Makharadze,
caused an accident in January 1997 that injured four people and killed a sixteen-year-old girl.
He was found to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.15, but was released from custody because he
was a diplomat. The U.S. government asked the Georgian government to waive his immunity,
which they did and Makharadze was tried and convicted of manslaughter by the U.S. and
sentenced to seven to twenty-one years in prison.
An American Marine serving his embassy in Bucharest, Romania collided with a taxi and killed
the popular Romanian musician Teo Peter on December 3, 2004. Christopher Van Goethem,
allegedly drunk, did not obey a traffic signal to stop, which resulted in the collision of his Ford
Expedition with the taxi the rock star was travelling in. Van Goethem's blood alcohol content
was estimated at 0.09 from a breathalyser test, but he refused to give a blood sample for further
testing and left for Germany before charges could be filed in Romania. The Romanian
government requested the American government lift his immunity, which it has refused to
do. The marine was later cleared by a Court Martial of both manslaughter and
adultery while convicted for obstruction of justice and making false statements.
A Russian diplomat accredited to Ottawa, Canada drove his car into two pedestrians on a quiet
residential street in January 2001, killing one and seriously injuring the other. Andrei Knyazev
had previously been stopped by Ottawa police on two separate occasions on suspicion of
impaired driving. The Canadian government requested that Russia waive the diplomat's
immunity, although this request was refused. Knyazev was subsequently prosecuted in Russia
for involuntary manslaughter, and sentenced to four years in prison. His appeal of the sentence
was denied and he served time in a penal colony.
An American diplomat stationed in Vladivostok, Russia was involved in a car accident on
October 27, 1998, that left a young man, Alexander Kashin, crippled. Consul General Douglas
Kent was not prosecuted in a U.S. court. Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations
of 1963, diplomatic immunity does not apply to civil actions relating to vehicular accidents.
However, on 10 August 2006, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that since he was using his own
vehicle for consular purposes, Kent may not be sued civilly.
 United Nations parking violations
In New York City, the home of the United Nations Headquarters (and hence thousands of diplomats),
protests against parking violations by diplomatic vehicles have a certain quixotic quality. Nonetheless,
the City regularly protests to the Department of State about non-payment of parking tickets due to
diplomatic status. Diplomatic missions have their own regulations, but many require their staff to pay
any fines due for parking violations. A 2006 study by two economists found that there was a significant
correlation between home-country corruption (as measured by Transparency International) and unpaid
parking fines; nonetheless, approximately 30 countries (or 20%) had fewer than one unpaid fine per
diplomat over a five year period, and 20 had none at all. Six countries had in excess of 100 violations
 Other car crime
In France, between November 2003 and 2004, there were 2,590 cases of diplomatic cars caught
speeding by automatic radars; the People's Republic of China alone had 155 violations. In
comparison, there were 4,400 speeding violations by French official vehicles, such as police cars, an
obviously much greater population than the Diplomatic Corps.
 Financial abuse
 Bad debts
Historically the problem of large debts run up by diplomats has also caused many problems.
Some financial institutions will not extend credit to diplomats because they have no legal means of
ensuring the money is repaid.
 Employer abuse
Diplomatic immunity from local employment and labor law when employing staff from the host
country has precipitated abuse. When the employer is a diplomat, the employees are in a legal limbo
where the laws of neither the host country nor the diplomat's country are enforceable. There is an
inherent conflict of interest, as the diplomat is the chief representative of his country and its laws, and
is not forced to obey local law, so that an abusive diplomat employer can act with virtual impunity.
Diplomats have ignored local laws concerning minimum wages, maximum working hours, vacation
and holidays. The worst abusers have imprisoned the employees in their homes, deprived them of their
earned wages, passports and from communication and access to the outside world, abused them
physically and emotionally, deprived them of food, and invaded their privacy. In the case of
corrupt countries and abusive diplomats, it has been virtually impossible to enforce payment of wages,
or any standards whatsoever.
On April 24, 2008, Mexican press attaché Rafael Quintero Curiel was taped stealing Blackberry PDA
units from a White House press meeting room in New Orleans, LA. Curiel made it all the way to the
airport before members of the United States Secret Service caught up with him. After denying any
wrong doing, he was shown the DVD of the surveillance video. Curiel claimed the incident was
accidental, stated his diplomatic immunity, and left the country.
Diplomats are exempt from import duty and tariffs for items for their personal use. In some countries,
this has led to charges that diplomatic agents are profiting personally from resale of "tax free" goods.
The receiving state may choose to impose restrictions on what may reasonably constitute personal use
(for example, only a certain quantity of cigarettes per day). When enacted, such restrictions are
generally quite generous (so as to avoid tit-for-tat responses).
 Tax avoidance or evasion
Diplomats are not necessarily exempt from paying government-imposed fees when they are "charges
levied for specific services rendered." In certain cases, such as London's congestion charge (a daily
charge on all cars entering central London), the nature of the fee may lead to disputes, but there is an
obligation for the receiving state not to "discriminate as between states"; in other words, any such fees
should be payable by all accredited diplomats equally. This may allow the diplomatic corps to negotiate
as a group with the authorities of the receiving country. In January 2006, it was reported that the United
States owed several million pounds in unpaid congestion charge fees. It was also reported
that diplomatic immunity had been used to avoid paying millions of pounds in traffic fines, as well as
dodging around £1 million in local rates, although some embassies have agreed to settle
 In fiction and reality
In fiction, diplomatic immunity is sometimes portrayed negatively with criminals with diplomatic
papers brazenly committing the most violent crimes and arrogantly waving their immunity about when
the heroes try to stop them. An example of this can be seen in the movie Lethal Weapon II; noteworthy
is that the official in the film headed a consulate, and would not have benefited from diplomatic
immunity, but the more limited consular immunity. In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex a
hacker is unable to escape Section 9 (a very well trained section of the police force) and resorts to
telling them that he is the son of a Canadian ambassador. In fact, Section 9 was well aware of this fact,
and thus delayed action until Canada had agreed to allow him to be brought to justice.
In reality, most diplomats are representatives of nations with a tradition of professional civil service,
and are expected to obey regulations governing their behaviour and they suffer strict internal
consequences (disciplinary action) if they flout local laws. In many nations a professional
diplomat's career may be compromised if he or she (or even members of his or her family) disobeys the
local authorities or causes serious embarrassment, and such cases are, at any rate, a violation of the
spirit of the Vienna Conventions.
The issue of parking tickets (see above) in New York was brought up in fourth season of the fictional
TV drama The West Wing in the episode "Arctic Radar". The president Josiah Bartlet shouts down the
phone at who he believes to be the UN Secretary General advising there are big signs telling diplomats
that they cannot park and that they should be towed to Queens before hanging up. It transpires however
that he was most likely talking to a secretary.
 Exceptions to the Vienna Convention
Some countries have made reservations to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, but they
are minor. Most important are the reservation by most Arab nations concerning the immunity of
diplomatic bags and non-recognition of Israel. A number of countries limit the diplomatic immunity of
persons who are citizens of the receiving country. As nations keep faith to their treaties with differing
zeal, other rules may also apply, though in most cases this summary is a reasonably accurate
approximation. It is important to note that the Convention does not cover the personnel of
international organizations, whose privileges are decided upon on a case-by-case basis, usually in the
treaties founding such organizations. The United Nations system (including its agencies, which
comprise the most recognizable international bodies such as the World Bank and many others) has a
relatively standardized form of limited immunities for staff traveling on U.N. laissez-passers;
diplomatic immunity is often granted to the highest-ranking officials of these agencies. Consular
officials (that do not have concurrent diplomatic accreditation) formally have a more limited form of
immunity, generally limited to their official duties. Diplomatic technical and administrative staff also
have more limited immunity under the Vienna Convention; for this reason, some countries may
accredit technical and administrative staff as attachés.
Other categories of government officials that may travel frequently to other countries may not have
diplomatic passports or diplomatic immunity, such as members of the military, high-ranking
government officials, ministers, and others. Many countries provide non-diplomatic official passports
to such personnel, and there may be different classes of such travel documents such as official
passports, service passports, and others. De facto recognition of some form of immunity may be
conveyed by states accepting officials traveling on such documents, or there may exist bilateral
agreements to govern such cases (as in, for example, the case of military personnel conducting or
observing exercises on the territory of the receiving country).
Formally, diplomatic immunity may be limited to officials accredited to a host country, or traveling to
or from their host country. In practice, many countries may effectively recognize diplomatic immunity
for those traveling on diplomatic passports, with admittance to the country constituting acceptance of
the diplomatic status.
 Diplomatic immunity in the United States
The following chart outlines the immunities afforded to foreign diplomatic personnel residing in the
United States. In general, these rules follow the Vienna Convention and generally apply in other
countries as well.
May be be May be Official
entered May be
Category arrested or issued subpoenaed family
subject to prosecuted
detained traffic as witness member
Diplomatic Same as
No No Yes No No
administrative Same as
No No Yes No No
and technical sponsor
Service staff Yes Yes Yes Yes acts. No
Yes, if for No, for
a felony official acts.
Consular Yes Yes acts. No
pursuant to may not be
a compelled in
warrant. any case.
Honorary No, for
consular Yes Yes Yes official No
Yes, in all
other cases Otherwise,
Consular official acts.
Yes Yes Yes acts. No
employees Yes, in all
level staff of
missions to No No Yes No No
International official acts.
Organization Yes Yes Yes acts. No
organization Yes, in all
Support staff No, for
of missions to official acts.
Yes Yes Yes acts. No
international Yes, in all
organizations other cases
1. ^ "What's the story on diplomatic immunity?". The Straight Dope (1 November 2005). Retrieved on
2. ^ "Georgian diplomat convicted in fatal crash goes home", CNN (30 June 2000). Retrieved on 2007-03-
3. ^ "People in the News, May 2005", Vivid — Romania through international eyes.
4. ^ "“Compact” band bass-player, killed in a car accident caused by a US Embassy employee", Nine
O'Clock (6 December 2004). Retrieved on 2007-11-29.
5. ^ USEU : Article
6. ^ "Drunk driving diplomat's appeal rejected", CBC News (30 April 2002). Retrieved on 2007-03-28.
7. ^ Susan, Catto (20 April 2002). "Convicted", The New York Times. Retrieved on 2007-03-28.
8. ^ "Russian diplomat faces jail term for deadly auto accident.", Jamestown Foundation Monitor (22
March 2002). Retrieved on 2007-03-28.
9. ^ "Immunity shelters former US Consul from Russian invalid", Vladivostok News (17 August 2006).
10. ^ "Russia student in diplomatic controversy", New Mexico daily Lobo, From AP (16 September 2002).
11. ^ Fisman, Ray & Miguel, Edward (28 April 2006), Cultures of Corruption: Evidence from Diplomatic
Parking ickets, USC FBE APPLIED ECONOMICS WORKSHOP,
12. ^ Le Canard Enchaîné, March 16, 2005
13. ^ ACLU: Abused Domestic Workers of Diplomats Seek Justice From International Commission
14. ^ American Civil Liberties Union : ACLU Charges Kuwait Government and Diplomats With Abusing
15. ^ FOXNews.com - Mexican Embassy: Official Fired After Getting Caught With White House
BlackBerries - Politics | Republican Party | Democratic Party | Political Spectrum
16. ^ "Embassy to pay congestion charge", BBC News (6 April 2006). Retrieved on 2007-03-28.
17. ^ Finlex Database on Finnish treaty relations: SopS 3/1970. Includes the list of reservations to the
Vienna conventions in English.
18. ^ "Legal Aspects of Diplomatic Immunity and Privileges". United States Department of State. Retrieved
19. ^ a b c Reasonable constraints, however, may be applied in emergency circumstances involving self-
defense, public safety, or the prevention of serious criminal acts.
20. ^ a b c d e f g h i This table presents general rules. Particularly in the cases indicated, the employees of
certain foreign countries may enjoy higher levels of privileges and immunities on the basis of special
21. ^ Note that consular residences are sometimes located within the official consular premises. In such
cases, only the official office space is protected from police entry.
22. ^ a b c d e A small number of senior officers are entitled to be treated identically to "diplomatic agents".
 See also
Vienna Convention on Consular Relations
 External links
New York City Commission for the United Nations Consular Corp and Protocol
What's the story on diplomatic immunity? from Straight Dope
Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR), 1963
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diplomatic_immunity"
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Major Treaties & Conventions
Diplomatic & Consular Immunity
» Dimensions of Diplomacy
» International Law
» Diplomatic & Consular Immunity
Foreign Service personnel assigned to U.S. embassies and consulates should consult with appropriate officials
of the Department of State regarding authoritative information on diplomatic and consular immunities. The
overview presented below is intended as a basic, layperson’s introduction to the subject.
The purpose of diplomatic and consular immunity is to promote effectiveness of official relations. Both types
of immunities extend essential protections to diplomats, consuls, their families and their staffs by limiting the
ability of host countries to detain, subpoena, arrest or prosecute them. Limits on taxation and social service
provisions also exist. These privileges and limits help ensure the efficient performance of U.S. diplomatic
personnel stationed abroad. For information regarding U.S. treatment of foreign diplomats assigned to the
United States, see http://www.state.gov/m/ds/immunities/c9118.htm
Levels of protection vary according to an employee’s role as a diplomatic agent, an administrative and support
employee or a consular officer. Recognized family members generally have the same level of immunity as
employees, but not in all circumstances. Foreign Service personnel traveling temporarily to a country are
normally not covered. The immunities themselves fall into four categories: personal inviolability (freedom
from search and seizure), criminal immunity (may not be detained or arrested, or prosecuted for criminal
violations of host country law), civil immunity (may not be sued) and immunity from being required to testify
in a criminal or civil proceeding.
Diplomatic Immunity privileges extend directly from the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, or
VCDR. The Convention deals with exemptions from criminal as well as civil laws of a host nation in most
circumstances. Generally, embassy territory and communications, as well as a diplomatic agent’s person and
personal property, are considered inviolable under the Convention. Article 31 of the Convention exempts
diplomatic agents from the civil and criminal jurisdictions of host states, except for cases in which a
diplomatic agent (1) is involved in a dispute over personal real property, (2) has an action involving private
estate matters or (3) is in a dispute arising from commercial or professional business outside the scope of
These exemptions dictate the terms under which an American diplomat may be subject to criminal or civil
penalty. Also, Article 31 clearly states that while diplomatic immunity privileges may exist in a host state,
these privileges do not exempt the diplomatic agent from the jurisdiction of the laws of the United
States. These privileges are not absolute either. For example, Article 32 provides that the sending state may
waive all diplomatic immunity privileges enjoyed by the diplomatic agent.
Consular immunity privileges are described in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 (VCCR).
Consular immunity offers protections similar to diplomatic immunity, but these protections are not as
extensive, given the functional differences between consular and diplomatic officers. For example, consular
officers are not accorded absolute immunity from a host country’s criminal jurisdiction (they may be tried for
certain local crimes upon action by a local court) and are immune from local jurisdiction only in cases directly
relating to consular functions.
The following information, drawn from a State Department chart outlining immunities afforded to foreign
diplomatic personnel residing in the United States, highlights the basic differences between consular and
MAY BE BE ENTERED MAY BE
ISSUED MAY BE RECOGNIZED
CATEGORY ARRESTED OR SUBJECT TO SUBPOENAED AS
TRAFFIC PROSECUTED FAMILY MEMBER
DETAINED ORDINARY WITNESS
SAME AS SPONSOR
1 (FULL IMMUNITY
DIPLOMATIC AGENT NO NO YES NO NO
MEMBER OF SAME AS SPONSOR
ADMINISTRATIVE & NO 1 NO YES NO NO (FULL IMMUNITY
TECHNICAL STAFF AND INVIOLABILITY
NO IMMUNITY OR
SERVICE STAFF YES YES YES YES YES
YES, IF FOR A NO—FOR
CAREER CONSULAR FELONY & 4 OFFICIAL ACTS; NO IMMUNITY OR
YES YES MAY NOT BE
OFFICERS PURSUANT TO OTHERWISE, INVIOLABILITY 2
COMPELLED IN ANY
A WARRANT 2 YES 2
HONORARY NO—FOR OFFICIAL
OFFICIAL ACTS; NO IMMUNITY OR
CONSULAR YES YES YES ACTS. YES IN ALL
OFFICERS OTHER CASES
CONSULAR 2 OFFICIAL ACTS; NO IMMUNITY OR
YES YES YES ACTS. YES IN ALL
EMPLOYEES OTHERWISE, INVIOLABILITY 2
Reasonable constraints, however, may be applied in emergency circumstances involving self-defense, public safety
or the prevention of serious criminal acts.
This table presents general rules. Particularly in the cases indicated, the employees of certain foreign countries
may enjoy higher levels of privileges and immunities on the basis of special bilateral agreements.
A small number of senior officers of international organizations are entitled to be treated identically to diplomatic
agents. (Note: International Organizations are not treated on this summary chart.)
Note that consular residences are sometimes located within the official consular premises. In such cases, only the
official office space is protected from police entry.
While the duties of a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) may be clearly defined by the State Department, his or her
immunities and privileges should not be taken for granted. Even when the Foreign Ministry of a country may
be fully aware of this dimension of diplomatic practice, successfully claiming such immunities in the case of
an accident or other emergency situation may well depend on the willingness of local officials to honor them.
Moreover, depending on whether official duties or functions are involved, the Department of State may or
may not come to the defense of U.S. Government employees faced with lawsuits. For example, Douglas Kent,
U.S. consul general in Vladivostok, was involved in a car accident in October 1998 while driving home from his
office. After Kent left the post on reassignment, a Russian citizen injured in the accident sued Kent in his
individual capacity in a district court in California. According to an August 31, 2006, “AFSANET” message from
the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), “The Department of Justice with State Department
concurrence refused to certify that Kent was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident
occurred,” thus undermining his claim of immunity. Ultimately, with AFSA supporting FSO Kent’s legal
defense, the case went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which ruled in his favor by
determining that he was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident took place.
The Kent case clearly demonstrates that while Foreign Service personnel, especially those in senior positions,
may consider themselves on duty 24 hours a day while stationed overseas and thus fully protected, particular
circumstances may put those immunities at risk. The case also points to the necessity for all employees who
drive overseas to have fully adequate personal/automobile liability insurance coverage (which Mr. Kent did