By Daniela Castillo Esquivel - International Relations Student
“When the reason for the rule evaporates, the rule should evaporate” (Good Morning Britain, 2019, min. 5:56). From the development of the law of diplomatic immunity to the creation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, it is evident that diplomats and their limitations have changed throughout history. But not enough. While immunities were once and in some cases are still needed, it is necessary to separate the official acts and duties from the personal life, therefore, personal immunity should be eliminated and the only immunity that diplomats should have is functional immunity.
When analyzing functional immunity its essentiality is evident, according to Frey (2013), this immunity promotes the diplomat’s duties and ensured their security both back in the ancient world and in the present as diplomats still experience threats to their safety: “Exemplified by the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Iran (...) and the holding of more than 50 American diplomatic personnel as hostages for 444 days” (Frey, 2013, para. 8). This proves that the need and use of functional immunity can be justified, but it is not the same for personal immunity, which sometimes is not used properly or as an “essential need”.
While there is a strong argument and evidence that “diplomat felonies aren’t as common as screenwriters would have us believe” (Chum, R., 2019, para. 12), it still happens and it still has an impact. It is the diplomat’s duty to learn and respect the laws, and, even if personal immunity is applied, it is their moral responsibility to acknowledge and apologize for their actions. This did not occur, for example, with the US intelligence agent’s wife, Anne Sacoolas, and her car accident in the UK that resulted in the death of a teenager. Is very disappointing and reasonably infuriating for the teenager’s family not to be able to demand justice and observe how Sacoolas is escorted back to her country (Chum, R., 2019).
Personal immunity not only affects people’s emotions and challenges core values but also affects other areas of society, like the economy, for example. “Diplomats owe more than £116m (…) for unpaid congestion charges” (BBC News., 2020, para. 1). “Unnamed embassy owed over $200,000 in back property taxes and a diplomat attempted to export two new vehicles without paying them” (Chum, R., 2019, para. 8). None of these actions had a consequence for the diplomats and that is just unacceptable. It is alarming and exposes the retrograde and corrupt side of diplomacy, which again, is not common but still has a repercussion in society’s economic structure.
When understanding and separating the diplomatic life from the personal life, it can be observed how personal immunities are not necessary nor productive and should be eliminated, leaving only functional immunities for the diplomats to use. It was through years of history that these laws and immunities were created and it is with comprehension and devotion that they can be changed. If personal immunities are kept the way they currently are, negative repercussions could occur, but, if these personal immunities are removed, there will be nothing other than positive outcomes for both diplomats and the rest of the citizens.
MOXIE es el Canal de ULACIT (www.ulacit.ac.cr), producido por y para los estudiantes universitarios, en alianza con el medio periodístico independiente Delfino.cr, con el propósito de brindarles un espacio para generar y difundir sus ideas. Se llama Moxie - que en inglés urbano significa tener la capacidad de enfrentar las dificultades con inteligencia, audacia y valentía - en honor a nuestros alumnos, cuyo “moxie” los caracteriza.
BBC News. (2020, February 25). Diplomats owe over 116m in congestion charges. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-51629344
Chum, R. (2019, December 2). Dodgy diplomats: how envoys misuse their immunity. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/dec/02/envoys-diplomatic-immunity-misuse-crime
Frey, M.L. (2013, May 2). Diplomatic immunity. Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/diplomatic-immunity
Good Morning Britain. (2019, October 8). Should we end diplomatic immunity? YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZcbM_qE33Y