How To Define Diplomatic Immunity?

What Is The Purpose Of Diplomatic Immunity?


The concept of diplomatic immunity goes back to the ancient Indian practice of diplomacy and to Greek republics and Roman empires who enacted specific laws to protect diplomats. But what does diplomatic immunity mean for diplomats in modern world and how to define it.
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In the modern international practice diplomatic immunity is rooted in the 1708 UK law that prohibited the arrest of foreign diplomats. Its provisions were expanded and formally guaranteed by the 1815 congress of Vienna, and were further amplified by the 1961 Vienna Convention On Diplomatic Relations.

Diplomatic immunity is reciprocal privilege of the exemption from the local laws granted by one State to the diplomats of another. Its objective is to allow foreign diplomats the freedom to carry out their legitimate official duties without interference, and does not amount to an open invitation to do whatever they please without fear of punishment. The basis of diplomatic immunity is expediency and reciprocity, not absolute license. A foreign diplomat (like a local citizen) can be charged for all offenses committed, whether big or small. The only difference is that he or she (upon verification of diplomatic identity) may not be arrested, held in legal custody, or made a defendant in a court case. Instead, he or she is deported through due process to his or her home country to face prosecution under its laws. Diplomats who are serious offenders or indulge in activities contrary to their official status may be declared persona non grata and be forced to go back within a few days or even hours. 

When receiving diplomats, who formally represent their own countries, the receiving head of state grants certain privileges and immunities to ensure they may effectively carry out their duties, on the understanding that these are provided on a reciprocal basis between two countries.

It is possible for the official's home country to waive immunity; this tends to happen only when the individual has committed a serious crime, unconnected with their diplomatic role (as opposed to, say, allegations of spying), or has witnessed such a crime. However, many countries refuse to waive immunity. Individuals have no authority to waive their own immunity (except perhaps in cases of defection). Alternatively, the home country may prosecute the individual. If immunity is waived by a government so that a diplomat (or their family members) can be prosecuted, it must be because there is a case to answer and it is in the public interest to prosecute them. For instance, in 2002, a Colombian diplomat in London was prosecuted for manslaughter, once diplomatic immunity was waived by the Colombian government.


How To Gain Diplomatic Immunity?

To gain a diplomatic immunity person has to be a diplomat. A receiving country has to grant diplomatic immunity and privileges for every diplomat.


Do Family Members Of Diplomats Have Diplomatic Immunity

Yes, diplomats have full immunity, as do any deputies or families members. Diplomatic privileges and immunities guarantee that diplomatic agents or members of their immediate family:

  • May not be arrested or detained
  • May not have their residences entered and searched
  • May not be subpoenaed as witnesses
  • May not be prosecuted

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