Recently, an incident has sparked anger in South Korea, with debates rife over the extent of protection enjoyed by diplomats and their family members under diplomatic immunity.
What is diplomatic immunity?
- It is a privilege of exemption from certain laws and taxes granted to diplomats by the country in which they are posted. The custom was formed so that diplomats can function without fear, threat or intimidation from the host country.
- Diplomatic immunity is granted on the basis of two conventions, popularly called the Vienna Conventions — the Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961, and the Convention on Consular Relations, 1963.
- They have been ratified by 187 countries, including South Korea. Which means, it is a law under that country’s legal framework and cannot be violated.
What is the extent of diplomatic immunity?
- According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961, the immunity enjoyed by a diplomat posted in the embassy is “inviolable”.
- The diplomat cannot be arrested or detained and his house will have the same inviolability and protection as the embassy.
- It is possible for the diplomat’s home country to waive immunity but this can happen only when the individual has committed a ‘serious crime’, unconnected with their diplomatic role or has witnessed such a crime.
- Alternatively, the home country may prosecute the individual.
- While diplomatic immunity is intended to “insulate” diplomats from harm, it does not insulate their countries from a bad reputation and a blow to bilateral ties. The privilege of diplomatic immunity is not for an individual’s benefit.
- If a diplomat acts outside his business of conducting international relations, a question arises over whether his immunity still applies.
Is this immunity the same for all diplomats and their families?
- No. The Vienna Convention classifies diplomats according to their posting in the embassy, consular or international organisations such as the UN.
- A nation has only one embassy per foreign country, usually in the capital, but may have multiple consulate offices, generally in locations where many of its citizens live or visit.
- Diplomats posted in an embassy get immunity, along with his or her family members.
- While diplomats posted in consulates also get immunity, they can be prosecuted in case of serious crimes, that is, when a warrant is issued. Besides, their families don’t share that immunity.
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