Diplomacy can be defined as interaction between states carried out through diplomats. The diplomat is expected to promote the core values and interests of their country by engaging in negotiations and activities geared towards promotion of their country’s interests.
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The welfare of the diplomats as they conduct missions abroad is catered for by the states involved. This means that the diplomats enjoy certain diplomatic privileges. These privileges are accorded to both the diplomats and their families if they are together with them in the host country (Marshall 3).
According to Watson (20), diplomatic immunity refers to some form of legal protection given to diplomats. The legal agreement about the protection to be accorded to diplomats is arrived at after the government which is sending the diplomat and the one where the diplomat is being hosted agree on the rights of these diplomats.
Initially, the privileges were given on some conditions which did not favor the weaker states. This problem was addressed at the Vienna convention where standard privileges which would apply to all the diplomats were agreed upon.
Ethos, pathos and logos
Ethos, in relation to diplomacy, deals with the diplomat’s credibility because it affects the reception of their message by the audience. Logos appeals to the reason.
The diplomat should be able to use this aspect when speaking about issues dealing with their home country. Pathos appeals to the emotions. The use of pathos helps the diplomat in identifying with the audience, their feelings and values.
Diplomats are usually university graduates in areas such as social sciences and international relations. They are people of integrity, with no criminal record and who are endowed with good communication skills. Diplomats are supposed to represent the government’s policies and stand firmly by them, even if they do not fully agree with them.
They are supposed to be people who are able to speak and pass across a message in a manner that is not antagonizing to others or have a negative impact on the listeners.
Good negotiation and persuasion skills are also necessary in order for them to speak for their country without compromising. While on their missions abroad, diplomats are supposed to represent their nation’s agendas and are not allowed to change nationality.
They are basically the voice of their country in the host country. They speak what has been agreed upon as the guiding policies of the country
Positive Impacts of Diplomatic Immunity
Protection against interstate animosity
Diplomatic immunity protects the diplomat against acts that may be meted on them as a result of inter state animosity. All diplomats are safe whenever they are sent to represent their governments, regardless of whether the relationship between the two states is perfect or sour.
Safe entry into the host country
Diplomatic immunity guarantees the diplomats a safe entry into the host country. It also exempts the diplomats from the host country’s laws and regulations. Therefore, they are protected from any lawsuit or prosecution dealing with the country’s laws.
However, the host country can choose to expel them if they feel there is need to do so. This is what was arrived at to be the guiding international law when a convention on diplomatic relations was held at Vienna in 1961.
Safeguarding of good relationship between countries
Diplomatic immunity is a useful tool in the safeguarding of good relationship between countries. It is especially helpful during periods of security instability in the country. The diplomats are usually received into the host country by the president.
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It is during this period of reception that the president informs the diplomat of the privileges and immunities that the host country accords them.
Protection against criminals
Diplomats are usually given escorts to protect them against criminals. This kind of protection is necessary as criminals may plan to exploit them financially because most of them are well paid. Attacks from criminals may impede their performance at work and also may strain the relationship between the two countries (Watson 10).
Negative Impacts of Diplomatic Immunity
Abuse by the diplomat on the employee
Employees in the diplomatic offices are left at a crossroad because neither the labor laws of the host country nor those of the diplomat’s country protect them. A conflict of interest therefore arises. Since the diplomat is under no obligation to obey any of the host country’s laws because of the diplomatic immunity that covers him, cases of employee abuse may arise (Sharp 70).
The diplomat may not care much about the consequences of mistreating the employee because he can continue doing so without being prosecuted. Some of the diplomats therefore, abuse their employees physically and in many other ways with impunity.
Cases of withholding of employees salaries or underpaying them are also common, but no one raises a question about them because the diplomat is under diplomatic immunity. Some employees are also overworked and their rights infringed because there are no laws to protect them as they work for the diplomats.
Gore-Booth (100) observes that diplomatic immunity has financial implications on various stakeholders, especially in the host country. Huge debts incurred by the diplomats have been a controversial issue because there are no clear laws governing what should happen in case a diplomat has accumulated huge debts, which they have refused to pay.
Citizens of the host country, who the diplomat may owe huge amounts of money, are disadvantaged because they do not have any clear channels of law they can follow to ensure that their debts are repaid. Most of the institutions or individuals shun lending of money or other valuables to the diplomats because of this problem.
Payment of rent
Landlords have also had a major challenge with payment of rent by the diplomats. Some of the diplomats have huge rent arrears which they do not pay. Evicting them from the premises becomes impossible because of the diplomatic immunity which protects them from evictions.
Landlords and owners of other properties have become more cautious before lending out any of their assets to the diplomats. Some have even changed policies in order to shun such people.
Evading child support and spousal support
Sharp (18) says that some of the diplomats have been known to evade their marital responsibilities in the areas of child and spousal support. Although the issue was raised during the 1995 world conference on women held in Beijing, there was no agreement on the possible solutions to the problem.
This is because, the United Nations does not like meddling in people’s marital affairs and therefore, it becomes had for part of the diplomat’s salary to be directly channeled to cater for such expenses because of what is known as sovereign immunity. Despite some of these diplomats evading these responsibilities, they still go ahead and claim allowances for their families, which they end up pocketing for their own selfish gains.
Payment of taxes
According to Gore-Booth (50), diplomatic immunity exempts the diplomats from payment of import duty and other charges on goods bought for their own personal use. This privilege is being misused by some diplomats who import certain goods tax free and then sell them at a higher price for their own benefit.
To curb such incidents, some governments have gone a step further to define what goods for personal use are and the reasonable quantity of such goods that one can use.
Incidents involving diplomatic immunity
An incident involving diplomatic immunity of a South African diplomat in Norway was reported on September 2011. The South African minister reportedly refused to give up her bag for scanning through an x-ray. This led to her missing her flight which was scheduled to take place through a commercial flight.
Consequently, a private jet was used to transport her at a very high cost. The argument for this was that the minister was exempted from such x-ray searches at the airport, according to the Vienna convention agreement. This means that the minister was right to refuse to give up her bag for the search.
Tanzania also reported a case of diplomatic immunity on a Canadian diplomat in 2009. The diplomat is alleged to have spat on a Tanzanian traffic police. The diplomat was not charged because he was covered by diplomatic immunity.
Incidents of drunken diplomats driving carelessly in the host country and killing citizens of the country with impunity have been reported in several countries. Examples of such incidents include: the Romanian diplomat in Singapore in December 2009, the united nation’s diplomat Patrick Kibuta in Pakistan and an American diplomat in Russia.
The diplomatic immunity accorded to a diplomat can be removed by the home country of the diplomat under certain conditions. This can happen when the diplomat has been involved in gross misconduct or in severe criminal activities. For the prosecution of such an individual to take place, it is necessary for the home country to waive their diplomatic immunity.
An example of a case whereby the diplomatic immunity of the diplomat was waived is the Colombian diplomat in London’s case. This happened in 2002, when the Colombian diplomat was accused of manslaughter. The diplomat allegedly committed the crime against a man who mugged his son.
After careful scrutiny of the case, the Columbian government considered the case as one in the interest of the public. This led to the waiving of the diplomatic immunity on the diplomat so that he would face the manslaughter charges against him.
Diplomats are usually sent to other countries to represent their home countries and the policies held. While abroad, they are protected by diplomatic immunity. Through this, the diplomats are able to carry out their tasks comfortably and in a manner that represents the values of their country.
The diplomatic immunity protecting them has both advantages and disadvantages. Some of the diplomats use diplomatic immunity accorded to them to abuse their workers, refuse to pay debts and rent, evade their spousal and child support and abuse the privilege to import goods for personal use.
On the other hand, diplomatic immunity is helpful to the diplomat because it protects them from mistreatment arising from inter state animosity, gives them safe entry into the country and also helps in the promotion of good relationship between countries.
Gore-Booth, Lord. Satow’s Guide to Diplomatic Practice. London: Longman, 1979.
Marshall, Peter. Positive Diplomacy. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 1999.
Sharp, Paul. Diplomatic Theory in International Relationship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Watson, Adam. Diplomacy: The Dialogue between States. London: Methuen & co, 1982.