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September 14th, 2016
I never really understood how exactly diplomatic immunity is fair and after reading this week I still don’t understand. Diplomatic immunity has a long history and is recorded in Ramyana in 3000 BC. Modern diplomatic immunity is provided for by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. As of April 2014 it has been signed on and ratified by 190 countries. It’s an extensive document containing 53 articles. A summary of it’s allowances are as follows:
- Article 9. The host nation at any time and for any reason can declare a particular member of the diplomatic staff to be persona non grata. The sending state must recall this person within a reasonable period of time, or otherwise this person may lose their diplomatic immunity.
- Article 22. The premises of a diplomatic mission, such as an embassy, are inviolable and must not be entered by the host country except by permission of the head of the mission. Furthermore, the host country must protect the mission from intrusion or damage. The host country must never search the premises, nor seize its documents or property. Article 30 extends this provision to the private residence of the diplomats.
- Article 24 establishes that the archives and documents of a diplomatic mission are inviolable. The receiving country shall not seize or open such documents.
- Article 27. The host country must permit and protect free communication between the diplomats of the mission and their home country. A diplomatic bag must never be opened even on suspicion of abuse. A diplomatic courier must never be arrested or detained.
- Article 29. Diplomats must not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. They are immune from civil or criminal prosecution, though the sending country may waive this right under Article 32. Under Article 34, they are exempt from most taxes, and under Article 36 they are exempt from most customs duties.
- Article 31.1c Actions not covered by diplomatic immunity: professional activity outside diplomat’s official functions.
- Article 34 speaks about tax exemption of diplomatic agents while Article 36 establishes that diplomatic agents are exempted from custom duties.
- Article 37. The family members of a diplomat that are living in the host country enjoy most of the same protections as the diplomats themselves.
There’s a common myth that diplomatic immunity doesn’t cover murder but it does. It’s immunity to all the laws of a host country. Diplomats are not immune in their home country’s jurisdiction. So why the untouchable status in another? It supposed to be to alleviate tension between nations over legal issues. If you ask me it does the opposite at times. It’s difficult to decide. As you’ll read, there’s some pretty outrageous shit that diplomats have done. The only times the immunity status doesn’t prevail are if the Vienna Convention has been violated or the sending country waives the immunity status as was done by the Colombian Government in 2002 when a diplomat committed manslaughter in London.
I coincide with it when thinking of an extreme. What if the punishment for theft was getting a hand chopped off in a certain nation? We wouldn’t want the son of one of our dignitaries paying that kind of penalty for stealing a pack of gum. Some think these things should be handled ad hoc or on a cases by case basis. Could you imagine the amount of bureaucratic red tape world wide and there’d be no consistency of crimes punishable. As it is they’re not punishable and it’s likely to stay that way. Below are some of the crimes committed and what happened. They do not all have conclusions.
Offenses Against the Person
On-duty police officer Yvonne Fletcher was murdered in London in 1984, by a person shooting from inside the Libyan embassy during a protest. The incident caused a breakdown in diplomatic relations until Libya admitted “general responsibility” in 1999. The incident became a major factor in Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher‘s decision to allow President of the United States Ronald Reagan to launch the U.S. bombing of Libya in 1986 from American bases in the United Kingdom.
In 1987 in New York City, the Human Resources Administration placed 9-year-old Terrence Karamba in a foster home after his elementary school teachers noticed suspicious scars and injuries. He and his 7-year-old sister, who was also placed in City custody, told officials the wounds had been inflicted by their father, Floyd Karamba, an administrative attache at the Zimbabwean Mission to the U.N. No charges were filed, as Mr. Karamba had diplomatic immunity.
On February 1999 in Vancouver, Canada, Kazuko Shimokoji, wife of the Japanese Consul-General, showed up at the ER of a city hospital with two black eyes and a bruised neck. She told doctors that her husband had beaten her. When local police questioned her husband, Mr. Shimokoji said, “Yes, I punched her out and she deserved it”, and described the incident as “a cultural thing and not a big deal”. Although an arrest warrant was issued, Mr. Shimokoji could not be arrested due to his diplomatic immunity. However, his statement to the police was widely reported in both the local and Japanese press. The subsequent public uproar prompted the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to waive Mr. Shimokoji’s immunity. Though he pleaded guilty in Canadian court, he was given an absolute discharge. Nonetheless, he was recalled to Japan where he was reassigned to office duty and had his pay cut.
In November 2006 in New York City, Fred Matwanga, Kenyan diplomat to the U.N., was taken into police custody by officers responding to reports that he had assaulted his son; he was released after asserting diplomat immunity.
In January 2011 in Lahore, Pakistan, American embassy employee Raymond Allen Davis shot and killed two Pakistani civilians, while a third man was struck and killed by a U.S. consulate car responding to the shooting. According to Davis, they were about to rob him and he acted in self-defense. When detained by police, Davis claimed to be a consultant at the U.S. consulate in Lahore. He was formally arrested and remanded into custody. Further investigations revealed that he was working with the CIA as a contractor in Pakistan. U.S. State Department declared him a diplomat and repeatedly requested immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, to which Pakistan is a signatory. On March 16, 2011, Davis was released after the families of the two killed men were paid $2.4 million in diyya (a form of monetary compensation or blood money). Judges then acquitted him on all charges and Davis immediately departed Pakistan.
In April 2012 in Manila, Panamanian diplomat Erick Bairnals Shcks was accused of raping a 19-year-old Filipino woman, but was later released from detention because Shcks “enjoys protection under the 1961 Vienna Convention”.
In March 2013, the Supreme Court of India restricted Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini from leaving India for breaching an undertaking given to the apex court. Despite Italian and European Union protests regarding the restrictions as contrary to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the Supreme Court of India said it would be unacceptable to argue diplomatic immunity after voluntarily subjecting to court’s jurisdiction. The Italian envoy had invoked Article 32 of the Constitution of India when filing an affidavit to the Supreme Court taking responsibility for the return of the two Italian marines to India after casting their votes in the March 2012 general elections in Italy. The Indian Supreme Court opined that the Italian ambassador had waived his diplomatic immunity and could be charged for contempt. The two marines were being tried in India for the murder of two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala (see the 2012 Italian Navy Marines shooting incident in the Laccadive Sea).
In June 2014, the New Zealand government confirmed that Mohammed Rizalman Bin Ismail from Malaysia, aged in his 30s and employed at Malaysia’s High Commission in Wellington, had invoked diplomatic immunity when faced with charges of burglary and assault with intent to rape after allegedly following a 21-year-old woman to her home. He returned to Malaysia in May 2014 with his family while the case was still in hearing. The New Zealand foreign ministry was criticized for allowing the defendant to leave the country, which was blamed on miscommunication between the foreign ministries of the two countries, as Prime Minister John Key expressed his view that “the man should have faced the charges in New Zealand”. Malaysia eventually agreed to send the diplomat back to assist in investigations and he was eventually tried and detained in New Zealand.
In October 2013, Russian diplomat Dmitri Borodin was arrested in The Hague, The Netherlands, after neighbors called the police. Borodin was alleged to have been drunk and violent towards his children, aged two and four. Police were in the area because Borodin’s wife had lost control over her car while also under influence, and had rammed four parked cars near the diplomats’ house. Russia immediately demanded an apology from the Dutch government for violating Borodin’s diplomatic immunity. The row came at a time of tension between Russia and the Netherlands, after the Russian security services captured a Greenpeace vessel sailing under the Dutch flag, Arctic Sunrise, that was protesting against oil drilling in the Prirazlomnoye field.
In August 2014, police were called to the Arlington, Virginia, home of an ambassador from Equatorial Guinea, where they transported a female victim (reportedly the ambassador’s teenage daughter) who had been struck in the head. Police could not press assault charges because the suspect had diplomatic immunity.
Vehicular Assault and Drunk Driving
In January 1997, Gueorgui Makharadze, a high-ranking Georgian diplomat, caused a five-car pileup in Washington, D. C., in the United States, which killed a 16-year-old girl. Makharadze’s claim of diplomatic immunity created a national outrage in the United States, particularly given Makharadze’s previous record of driving offenses: in April 1996, Makharadze had been charged with speeding in Virginia, and four months later, he was detained by District of Columbia police on suspicion of drunk driving. In both prior cases, charges were dismissed based on his immunity. On the basis of the media coverage, Georgia revoked Makharadze’s immunity, and he was ultimately sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter and four counts of aggravated assault.
On 27 October 1998, in Vladivostok, Russia, Douglas Kent, the American Consul General to Russia, was involved in a car accident that left a young man, Alexander Kashin, disabled. Kent was not prosecuted in a U.S. court. Under the Vienna Convention, diplomatic immunity does not apply to civil actions relating to vehicular accidents, but in 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that, since he was using his vehicle for consular purposes, Kent could not be sued civilly.
In 2001, a Russian diplomat, Andrei Knyazev, hit and killed a woman while driving drunk in Ottawa. Knyazev refused to take a breathalyzer at the scene of the crash, citing diplomatic immunity. Russia refused Canadian requests to waive his immunity, and Knyazev was expelled from Canada. Though the Russian Foreign Ministry fired him and charged him with involuntary manslaughter, and Russian and Canadian authorities cooperated in the investigation, the case caused a political storm in Canada. Many accused the Foreign Ministry of incompetence after it emerged that Knyazev had twice been previously investigated for drunk driving. The Canadian Foreign Minister had fought unsuccessfully to have Knyazev tried in Ottawa. In 2002, Knyazev was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Russia.
On 3 December 2004, in Bucharest, Romania, Christopher Van Goethem, an American Marine serving his embassy, ran a red traffic signal, collided with a taxi, and killed popular Romanian musician Teo Peter. 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 to lift his immunity, which it refused to do. In a court-martial, he was acquitted of manslaughter and adultery (which is still a court martial offense) but was convicted of obstruction of justice and making false statements.
On 9 December 2009, in Tanzania, Canadian Junior Envoy Jean Touchette was arrested after it was reported that he spat at a traffic police officer on duty in the middle of a traffic jam in the Banana district on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam. Canada’s High Commissioner, Robert Orr, was summoned by the Tanzanian Foreign Ministry over the incident, and the junior envoy was later recalled.
On 15 December 2009, in Singapore, the Romanian chargé d’affaires, Silviu Ionescu, was allegedly behind a drunk-driving hit-and-run accident that killed a 30-year-old man and seriously injured two others. He left Singapore for Romania three days after the accident. The Romanian foreign ministry suspended Ionescu from his post. A coroner’s inquiry in Singapore, which included testimony by the Romanian embassy driver, concluded that Ionescu was solely responsible for the accident. An Interpol Red Notice was subsequently issued for his arrest and possible extradition notwithstanding the fact that Romania had not waived his diplomatic immunity and had commenced criminal proceedings against him in Romania. The Singapore government argued that by reason of Article 39(2) of the Vienna Convention, Ionescu was no longer protected by diplomatic immunity.
On 10 April 2011, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Patrick Kibuta, an electrical engineer in the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan caused a vehicle collision with another vehicle, while under the influence of alcohol. Kibuta, who was driving in the opposing lane, injured a Canadian citizen residing in Islamabad, who suffered multiple fractures and required surgery. The Kohsar police impounded Mr. Kibuta’s U.N. vehicle on the scene, and a blood test confirmed that he had an elevated blood alcohol level. Charges for reckless and drunken driving were filed against Kibuta, who enjoyed diplomatic immunity.
In July 2013, Joshua Walde, an American diplomat in Nairobi, Kenya, crashed into a mini-bus, killing one man and seriously injuring eight others, who were left with no financial assistance to pay for hospital bills. United States embassy officials took the diplomat and his family out of Kenya the following day. The United States government was concerned about the impact the accident could have on bilateral relations with Kenya. Walde gave a statement to police, but was not detained due to his diplomatic immunity. Kenyan police say the case remains under investigation.
On September 12, 2015, Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani tried to claim diplomatic immunity when his Ferrari LaFerrari and a Porsche 911 GT3 were caught on camera drag racing through a residential neighborhood in Beverly Hills. He owns the cars and a drag racing team, and is a member of Qatar‘s ruling family. The Beverly Hills Police Department contacted the U.S. State Department to clarify if he had diplomatic immunity. They stated he did not. However, his face was not shown on camera, and no officer witnessed the crime, so the state of California has not yet pressed charges. He has since fled the country. The investigation is ongoing.
On 14 February 2013, a vehicle bearing diplomatic plates registered to the US Embassy got into an accident in Islamabad, Pakistan involving two residents out of which one was killed and the other survived. Murder charges were laid under Section 320 of Pakistan Penal Code against the driver of the vehicle who is a diplomat according to Pakistani official.
Employer Abuse and Slavery
- In 1999, a Bangladeshi woman, Shamela Begum, claimed she had been enslaved by a senior Bahraini envoy to the UN and his wife. Begum charged that the couple took her passport, struck her, and paid her just $800 for ten months of service — during which she was only twice allowed out of the couple’s New York apartment. The envoy and his wife claimed diplomatic immunity, and Begum later reached a civil settlement with her employers. By some estimates, “hundreds of women have been exploited by their diplomat employers over the past 20 years.”
- In 2003 in Finland, a Filipino maid escaped from an embassy of an unidentified Asian country, and reported being held in conditions approaching slavery: she was forced to work from 7 am. to 10 pm., 7 days a week, and the ambassador’s children were permitted to hit her. On grounds of diplomatic immunity, no charges could be filed.
- In 2009, South Africa was criticized for claiming immunity from labor laws relating to a Ukrainian domestic worker at the residence of the South African ambassador in Ireland.
- In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief in Swarna v. Al-Awadi to argue that human trafficking is a commercial activity engaged in for personal profit, which falls outside the scope of a diplomat’s official functions, and therefore diplomatic immunity does not apply. An appeals court ruled that Al-Awadi did not have diplomatic immunity in that situation.
- In 2013, Indian consular official Devyani Khobragade was detained, hand-cuffed, strip searched, DNA swabbed, and held in a federal holding cell in New York, relating to allegations of non-payment of U.S. minimum wage and for fraudulently lying about the wages to be paid on a visa application for her domestic worker. India registered a strong protest and initiated a review of privileges afforded to American consular officials in India as a result.
- In 2015, two Nepalese women were rescued from the fifth floor of Gurgaon residence of a Saudi Arabian diplomat in India. They were allegedly confined there and abused physically and sexually by the diplomat and his family and friends. The women were rescued in a police raid planned after the police received a letter from the Nepal embassy regarding their plight. Several persons, the Saudi diplomat among them, were booked for wrongful confinement and gang rape. Saudi Ambassador Saud Mohammed Alsati commented, “This is completely false. We would not like to comment any further since the case is under investigation by the Indian police.” Ten days after the diplomat was accused, it was confirmed that he had left India.
There’s also cases of drug smuggling, cigarette smuggling, rent evasion, parking violations and more. (To read all the offenses click on Diplomatic Immunity) Diplomats in New York owed a total of $21.3 million in outstanding parking violations. Only $160.682 has ever been recovered.
Can anyone think of a better way? It’s the crimes that result in loss of life and the employer abuses that really get me. Maybe there should be some limitations or perhaps an offender should have to answer to a neutral court for human rights violations. I mean how much has happened that’s not in this blog or out there on the internet? They say no-one’s above the law but it’s just not true. At least not for the legal system in this world. God and the Universe see and hear everything though and in the name of balance I’m sure a higher justice will be served. Don’t forget to check out the Occupational Parenting page. Until next week; keep your homes well.