Diplomatic Immunity

Interesting article about diplomatic immunity as a "get out of jail free" card in Germany.

Shopping for free involves no legal consequences for the roughly 6,000 diplomats in Berlin and their families. Protected by diplomatic immunity as guaranteed under international law, members of the diplomatic service have all sorts of options not available to others. They can ignore red lights without fear of being fined, race through a speed trap drunk, bully the maid or refuse to pay the workman's bills.

Berlin's public prosecutor's office registered about 100 such offenses last year, including theft, traffic violations, fleeing the scene of accidents, and inflicting bodily harm. No one is keeping precise statistics. Those who get caught need only show their red diplomatic passport to get off scot-free in most cases.

Of course they're being counterfeited:

It seems like everybody wants one of those nice red "get out of jail free" cards these days: Senior prosecutor Karlheinz Dalheimer warns that "counterfeit diplomatic passports have been a major problem recently."

Posted on March 22, 2007 at 1:44 PM • 36 Comments

Comments

BobMarch 22, 2007 2:44 PM

There are legal consequences: diplomats can be booted out of the country. This is a career-limiting move, since they are unlikely to ever again get accreditation in any other first-world country. This type of international incident can severely limit their career prospects at home as well.
There was a case a few years back where a Russian diplomat was jailed in Russia for a crime committed in Canada.

The article seems to be mostly hype. It reminds me of one of the Lethal Weapon movies where a gang of "diplomats" run guns/drugs/whatever and go on a killing spree, supposedly under the protection of diplomatic immunity. It's a typical movie-plot threat.

According to the numbers in the article, the average diplomat gets stopped once every sixty years for what is most likely a traffic violation. Big deal.

Steve WildstromMarch 22, 2007 2:51 PM

This is not a very difficult problem to control. Diplomatic immunity doesn't prevent an individual from being detained for long enough to verify identity with the duty officer at the embassy.

Legitimate holders of diplomatic passports can and do behave badly. But except for a handful of rogue countries, these incidents are dealt with effectively by the embassies disciplining their own personnel.

In Washington there were some very unpleasant situations about 20 years ago, but they mostly ended when the State Dept. got tougher in dealing with the misbehavers (they cannot be prosecuted unless the country waives immunity, but they can be declared persona non grata and sent home in shame.) These days, the main problem is cars with diplomatic plates from a few countries parking wherever they want, without regard to legality.

Bryan FeirMarch 22, 2007 3:00 PM

@Bob

As I recall, the Russian diplomat in question had killed a woman in Ottawa while driving drunk, so his particular case was more than just a traffic violation.

The diplomatic repercussions of vehicular homicide were severe enough already without trying to sweep it under the rug more than they already were. Of course they did something about him...

GergMarch 22, 2007 3:10 PM

This smells like BS. If you held, say, a Albanian diplomatic passports, that doesn't itself entitle you to diplomatic immunity in Germany. The German government has the option of admitting you under a diplomatic visa which would mean granting you diplomatic immunity or not. If you just enter as a tourist it means nothing.

And comitting crimes while protected under diplomatic immunity isn't entirely risk-free either. The host country can't prosecute you but they can eject you. Diplomats who can't travel to a host country aren't very useful diplomats.

jMarch 22, 2007 3:16 PM

Re: "The host country can't prosecute you but they can eject you. Diplomats who can't travel to a host country aren't very useful diplomats."

Yes. The question here, if the report is true, is how did Germany let the diplomatic corps get to this state? Why have they been getting away with so much for so long?

jon liveseyMarch 22, 2007 3:30 PM

For reasons too obscure to mention, I travelled on a diplomatic passport for a couple of years. When I got it I asked what it gave me immunity for. The answer was "Only things you do in the course of your duties, not personal activities."

RalfMarch 22, 2007 5:13 PM

Wikipedia's Diplomatic Immunity article has an interesting list of crimes commited by person's with diplomatic status. Some of these are pretty serious crimes (some of them even committed by U.S. diplomats).

supersnailMarch 23, 2007 2:48 AM

Well Londons mayor, the ever popular "Red" Ken livingstone rekons that one particulary dodgy country -- the U.S.A. -- owes millions in unpaid parking fines and congestion charges.

GregMarch 23, 2007 3:04 AM

Whats the point of immunity? I mean if you are a diplomat then you should be sticking to the law of the land.

Personaly I don't think there should be any such thing. Embasy gound effectivly being the countrys own ground if you like should be enough.

PeterMarch 23, 2007 7:54 AM

My experience with police & diplomats in Ottawa - Car with diplomatic plates was parked in my appartment spot ( a very regular thing as I was lucky enough to have a good spot). I came home that night and made my regular call to parking control, they sent the police as it was late.

While discussing the problem with the cop who was just a bit cranky, he said that the diplomats would not pay ANY fines, but he would try to track the driver down and get it moved. He had the dispatcher run the plate and call the embassy, who were not at all helpful and basically said "too bad, we are not gong to contact the driver". This made the dispatcher and the cop really cranky, the cop turned to me and said "they will not pay fines BUT the towtruck operators do not care who you are, they want money before you get the car back! This one is going to cost him" and proceeded to have the car towed.

I do not know how often this happened, but it seemed to be suitable justice to me, 20 years ago it cost about 10 times the parking fine to get the car back from the towing pound :)

Jonathan SnakesMarch 23, 2007 8:00 AM

@greg

it's a safeguard of sorts. trying to prevent the host goverment inventing bogus charges to harrass, prevent or detain the diplomat during the course of his duties. it's also a quid pro quo, as established diplomatic relationships(diplomatic immunity being one of the perks of that) guarantee the same for both sides. and of course, it's a matter of prestige.

HarryMarch 23, 2007 8:03 AM

@Bob: for better or for worse, being PNG'd in one country does not mean the diplomat will be refused by others.

PNG'g is a serious step (by diplomatic standards) and governments use it gingerly, if only because the accrediting country will almost always PNG a similar number of diplomats in return. (This is more likely between countries that don't get along and in espionage cases, less likely between countries that do and for serious criminal violations such as homicide.)

Refusing to accredit an offered diplomat is less serious but also avoided for the same reason.

Juergen NievelerMarch 23, 2007 8:17 AM

This kind of problem isn't limited to Germany, nor is Germany only a victim... the german diplomats in London (along with many other diplomats) keep "forgetting" to pay the road toll necessary to drive into central London...

bobMarch 23, 2007 8:29 AM

Berlin should consider itself lucky it does not have the UN on its territory...

Herman ClausMarch 23, 2007 8:38 AM

In Belgium (and I suppose in Germany too) immunity doesn't apply if caught red-handed. As a result, traffic violations (as they are registered by officers) are always applicable, and shoplifting, if caught in the act, too.
However, this leaves lots of opportunities for breaking the law.

Owen BlackerMarch 23, 2007 10:22 AM

Expanding on what Juergen wrote about London, we have quite an awkward problem.

The Vienna Convention says that diplomats are exempt from all the host country's taxes (income tax etc, I'm not sure about sales taxes). Ken Livingstone, our mayor, with the backing of the govt, says our Congestion Charge is a toll, but some diplomats say it's a tax.

The USA is one of the worst offenders of this, incidentally, with something like £2m ($4m) of back charges that they're refusing to pay. I think we should refuse to recognise accreditations from refusing countries, myself, but I've a feeling our government is in no hurry to suspend diplomatic recognition for the US ;o)

Peter PearsonMarch 23, 2007 11:40 AM

On a related note, the National Bureau or Economic Research
published a study in February (http://www.nber.org/digest/feb07/w12312.html) based on New York City traffic tickets issued to its many diplomats. It reports a strong correlation between a diplomat's attitude toward parking laws and his home country's reputation for corruption.

HarryMarch 23, 2007 11:47 AM

@Owen Blacker
The US feels that way about Soviet/Russian parking tickets - $3 million in DC I think, and something similar in NYC. The DC government got so annoyed that it renamed the street in front of then-Soviet Embassy "Sakharov Street." The State Dept was displeased but powerless. (I imagine there was private chuckling.)

A 2006 working paper shows a corrolation between corrupt home countries and many unpaid tickets in NYC. There's a secondary corrolation with home country's view of the US.
http://psdblog.worldbank.org/psdblog/2006/05/parking_tickets.html

averrosMarch 26, 2007 1:58 PM

Merely goes to show what kind of the lowlife the government busybodies really are, doesn't it?

David CantrellMarch 26, 2007 2:28 PM

I wish that Mr. Livingstone would have the balls to make it clear that the congestion charge is a usage charge and not a tax, and is therefore no different from the embassies' electricity bills. Embassies have had their electricity cut off in the past when they didn't pay. I suggest putting some big concrete blocks in their gateways, thus cutting off their road service. But no, he merely uses this non-payment of charges as something convenient to grandstand about in the press.

bobMarch 28, 2007 11:50 AM

@David Cantrell: Simple solution - put the seat of the government in someplace that doesnt have a "usage charge" - for example Upper Heyford has a big empty spot with unused buildings. Then, if foreign embassies continue to stay in London, the usage charge is justified. If they move, no usage charge needed and congestion in London has been decreased. But having them need to be in London because thats where the govt is and then billing them for being there is a conflict of interest.

SomeoneMarch 28, 2007 1:05 PM

State Department policy is that diplomats are to obey the laws and pay any tickets they recieve. Not doing so leads to getting into trouble.

icemasterOctober 24, 2007 4:47 AM

I am curious about getting a diplomatic passport and really want to help other countries sovle problems. Being a US citizen,living abroad,I have acces only to the internet. I am curious how to really find and get a legit passport. Cost for the service I am aware of but there are several issues that need to be cleared before hand. Anyone know a good agency for consultation? Or where should I look?

lylaMay 15, 2008 7:54 AM

In the United States a diplomat Gueorgui Makharadze caused an accident in January of 1997. Four people where injured and a 16 year old was killed. He had a blood alcohol level of 0.15, he was released because he was a diplomat. The us wanted to charge him, and asked for his immunity to be waived. It was but he was only charged with manslaughter. One count of manslaughter when four other people where seriously hurt. He made the decision to get behind the wheel, drunk and he will only got seven years for killing a sixteen year old. If a citizen of the United States did that he would have been given a greater penilaty.

daveJune 15, 2008 6:50 AM

@lyla

A citizen of the United States in almost the exact same situation got off with even less. Read up on Christopher Van Goethem, a member of the US embassy staff in Romania that killed Teo Peter while drunk behind the wheel of his truck. The US refused to waive immunity, he left the country, was charged in the states with negligent homicide, got off because there were no eye witnesses called despite tons and tons of photographic and video evidence....Then he apologized for what he did!

He made the decision to get behind the wheel drunk, drove through a stop sign and hit a taxi, killing the passenger, and somehow that was ok.

Mike JohnsonDecember 12, 2008 4:09 PM

It would not be long before someone with a fake diplomatic passport was caught.

As for legitimate diplomatic passports, I know that in Germany, it is very difficult to get 'accreditation' (immunity) in Germany if a person has had any history of run ins with the police. This INCLUDES a speeding ticket in Germany. Germany is probably the most strict in the world in this regard.

The easiest way to get such a passport which is legally issued without going to university, studying diplomacy and getting a job as a diplomat, is via a trusted brokerage. These brokerages make an application for you on your behalf, basically, an offer to represent them in a certain country as an "Advisor" or some other role. The brokerages know how to make the application in a form in which it is accepted. One brokerage I know to be genuine is http://www.diplomaticpassport.com
I know this company will only accept quality individuals who can actually promote the country concerned and are unlikely to cause any embarrasment to the country or the brokerage. They are a very exclusive brokerage and should only be considered by people who a serious about arranging diplomatic status, not just immunity.

RobertoJune 6, 2011 6:31 AM

My father was a diplomat, I'd just like to point out a few things:
1. The majority of crimes committed by diplomats are committed by the accredited family members of the appointed diplomat.
2. Diplomats tend either to be civilized bureaucrats who obey the law, former-military intelligence personnel who tend to be a bit more cavalier, or third world kleptocrats and their children, who do what they please.
One of Gadaffi's sons, for instance, committed a number of crimes in Germany where he attended university, always to be released. The German government would not declare him persona non grata for fear of offending the Libyan dictator.

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