Diplomatic Immunity

The importance of developing friendly intercourse between members of international community which is one of the avowed aims of the United Nations, necessitate the establishment of diplomatic relations between nations. As the complexity of international affairs increased and the interdependence of nations grew, countries recognized both the convenience and necessity of maintaining resident envoys abroad. A code of diplomatic procedure was developed and has become part of the law of nations.
On 18 April l961, the United Nations Conference on Diplomatic Intercourse and Immunities adopted the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, hereafter called the “Vienna Convention”, which codified the law on the subject (Salonga, J. & Yap, P. l966 p. 252). Diplomatic persons have been accorded since ancient times special privileges and immunities on the necessity of permitting free and unhampered exercise of diplomatic functions and of maintaining the dignity of the diplomatic representative and the nation he represents.
However, the Vienna Convention clearly expressed that those who enjoy the privileges and immunities have the duty to respect the laws of the host country. Although inadequate, diplomatic immunity provides a means to forestall active hostilities that might arise between nations. Discussions/Analysis The person of a diplomatic envoy is inviolable. A diplomatic agent, official family members and his administrative and technical staff may not be subpoenaed as a witness, arrested or detained, prosecuted and residence may not be entered subject to ordinary procedure.

The United Nations Organizations and other international bodies also enjoy the right of legation and are accorded diplomatic immunity by receiving nations. Nonetheless, without prejudice to the privileges and immunities, diplomatic personnel are not exempt from legal responsibility for infractions committed under the local laws of the receiving country. For death and injury committed, the receiving country may request the sending nation to waive the immunity of a diplomatic agent. Gueorgui Makharadze, a deputy ambassador of the Republic of Goergia to the United States was convicted by the U. S. for causing the death of a sixteen-year-old girl and wounding four others in a car accident.
As a diplomat, he was released from custody, but the Georgian government waived his immunity when the U. S. government asked for it (Frieden, T. & the Associated Press 2000). Less grave offenses, however, are being dealt with administratively by the sending State as in the case of theft. Mexican embassy asked a Mexican press attaché Rafael Quintero Curiel to tender his resignation upon arrival in Mexico City when he was caught through a surveillance video stealing blackberry PDA units from a White House press meeting room.
He was caught up at the airport by the United States Secret Service and was about to leave. He claimed diplomatic immunity and left (. Rosen, James, Max Emanuel & the Associated Press). Exemption from taxation by the receiving State is held to be part of the “non-essential” prerogatives of diplomats, granted to them only as a matter of comity or courtesy. A diplomatic envoy however is not exempt from charges levied for specific services rendered. An example of this is the charge on cars entering central London. There are reports that diplomatic immunity has been used to avoid payment of traffic fines reaching to several million pounds.
There are embassies who agreed to settle their accounts. Londoners welcome the move of the United Arab Emirates to settle £99,950 of traffic fines and hope that the U. S. government will follow the move made by UAE (“Embassy to pay”). The premises occupied by a diplomatic mission are also inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter such premises without the consent of the envoy, except in extreme cases of necessity such as when the premises are on fire or where there is imminent danger that a crime of violence is about to be perpetrated on the premises.
Such premises cannot be entered or searched and neither can the records and archives be detained by local authorities even under process of law. Premises of global organizations are also inviolable. Recently, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) become the center of controversy when Geneva police entered the Geneva headquarters of the international patents agency to collect evidences in the alleged smear campaign against WIPO’s deputy head, Francis Gurry, following his complaint filed.
The police authorities get rid of diplomatic immunity when they entered the premises of an international body to greet DNA samples from ten employees of the said organization as reported by the Tribune de Genève. To allow the investigation to proceed, the Swiss government assented earlier to lift the diplomatic immunity from the 10 WIPO diplomats (Curtis, M. 2008). Diplomatic privileges and immunities may be waived, but as a rule, the waiver cannot be made by the individual concerned since such privileges and immunities are not personal to him.
The waiver may be made only by the government of the sending State, in the case of UN International agencies; it is the member nations that could waive the immunity. Summary/Conclusion Diplomatic agents are entitled to privileges and immunities, such as: personal inviolability, inviolability of premises and archives, exemption from taxes and customs duties, exemption from local jurisdiction, etc. Privileges and immunities however, are not without limitations; envoys are not immune from legal liability.
The host country may request the sending State expressed waiver of immunity or can declare persona non grata a diplomat or any member of his family who commit serious crime. Though immune from local laws, he can be recalled and prosecuted under his own country’s justice system. An envoy is immune from the criminal and saves in certain cases, the civil jurisdiction of the receiving State for all acts, whether official or private. Thus he cannot be arrested, prosecuted and punished for any offense he may commit, unless his diplomatic immunity is waived.
The procedure in cases where an envoy is guilty of a serious infraction of laws is to ask for his recall. Immunity from jurisdiction, however, does not mean exemption from the local law. It does not presuppose a right to violate any of the laws of the receiving State. They are not liable to be sued unless they submit to the jurisdiction. Diplomatic immunity does not signify immunity from legal liability but only exemption from local jurisdiction.

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