Diplomatic immunity is based on a rule of international law that protects foreign government officials from any type of prosecution or legal action by the courts or any governing authorities in the host country. It was created with the specific intention of ensuring that foreign officials could effectively represent the interests of their country and do their jobs without fear of impunity. But the concept of diplomatic immunity also has its critics, making it a hotly debatable topic.
Diplomatic Immunity was codified by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations in 1963. The Vienna conventions are responsible for the concept of diplomatic immunity and the current consular and diplomatic practices among countries worldwide. More than 160 countries are bound by the principles of the conventions and provide immunity to foreign government officials based on their consular position or diplomatic mission in the host country.
Provisions & Functions
The primary function of diplomatic immunity is to protect diplomatic communication channels so that information between governing officials remains confidential and classified information is not divulged to the public. Likewise, the provisions made by the principles of diplomatic immunity give foreign delegates the freedom to function in their role as representatives of their respective territories. Moreover, the ideal of reciprocity ensures that there is equality in the benefits of diplomatic immunity for ambassadors and foreign officials in any part of world. These provisions ensure that diplomatic officials and members of their immediate family cannot be detained or arrested, prosecuted, subpoenaed or have their residences searched.
The pros of diplomatic immunity are exclusively centered on the protections given to ambassadors and foreign government officials in the host country. They enjoy the freedom of engaging in official or unofficial activities without coming under any scrutiny, and this ensures that they can perform their diplomatic duties without fear of oppression or reprisal from any entities in the host country. Another benefit of diplomatic immunity is that it gives diplomats the ability to speak freely and address dissenting factions in the country and make negotiations with leaders as well as with people who may be considered political dissidents in the country.
The cons of diplomatic immunity are derived from the very principles that make immunity an advantage to foreign delegates in a host nation and a disadvantage to others. When diplomats or government officials abuse their authority and misuse their diplomatic immunity, it becomes a contentious issue. Quite often foreign officials with diplomatic immunity do not pay for basic services in a host country. This results in unpaid debts for rent, child care and even health care. Businesses have difficulty in filing civil suits against diplomats for unpaid services such as rental of office space. They can also commit traffic violations, smuggle prohibited items and engage in other criminal offenses in a host country without being prosecuted or even questioned by local authorities because of the protections provided under diplomatic immunity.