Diplomatic Immunity – UPSC Prelims

What is diplomatic immunity?
  • It is a privilege provided to diplomats in the country in which they got posted. Generally, these privileges will be in the form of exemption from certain laws and taxes.
  • This is formed as a custom so that the diplomats can function without fear, threat or intimidation from the host country.
  • Why in News? The wife of Belgium’s ambassador to South Korea allegedly hit two staff members at a boutique in Seoul last month. Recently the embassy has invoked diplomatic immunity to avoid criminal charges.
Diplomatic immunity is granted on the basis of two conventions popularly called the:
  • Vienna Conventions : the Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961 and
  • Convention on Consular Relations,1963.
These conventions have been ratified by 187 countries including South Korea. This means, Diplomatic immunity is a law under South Korea’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. The diplomat’s house will also have the same inviolability and protection as the embassy.
  • Further, family members of diplomats living in foreign countries also enjoy similar immunity from arrest in most of the cases.
  • However, 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’, anything unconnected to their diplomatic role or has witnessed such a crime. Alternatively, the home country may prosecute the individual.
The use of diplomatic immunity has come under scrutiny in other countries especially after the case involving the UK and the USA.
  • The wife of an American ambassador has alleged for her involvement in a fatal road accident that killed a British teenager. But she flew away from the UK using diplomatic immunity.
  • The parents of the teenager launched a court case. In that, they argued that Britain’s Foreign Office wrongly decided that the wife of an American ambassador had diplomatic immunity. However, the parents eventually lost the case in 2020.
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