Diplomatic Immunity: Power to get away with murder?
YDG Delegate, Gracious Kajah reflects on a diplomatic immunity case involving an American woman, wife of a US diplomat in the UK accused of killing a UK teenager as reported by the CNN by Jonny Hallam
The death of Harry Dunn, a 19-year-old British has sparked a lot of controversies to a revisit of the rules of diplomatic immunity. The facts, as reported by the UK media and based on witness accounts are that; on 27 August 2019, a car being driven on the wrong side of the road by Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a US government employee, collided with a motorcycle ridden by young Harry Dunn. The car had just left RAF Croughton, a Royal Air Force base in Northamptonshire used by US forces. Ann Sacoolas was questioned by police shortly after the accident but however returned to the US afterwards claiming she had diplomatic immunity. The UK then requested an extradition of the US diplomat’s wife which was further denied. This begs the question; does Diplomatic Immunity really make it so you can get away with murder?
The concept of Diplomatic Immunity has existed for a very long time. The modern rules surrounding this was laid out in 1961 at the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations with 192 countries ratifying this treaty. According to Article 29 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, “The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. The receiving State shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom or dignity”.
This inviolability is to give the diplomatic agent the power to work in the host country freely and easily without any form of intimation or threat. This immunity, however, is not absolute and may be “waived off” if the host country requests from the sending country the right to try the Diplomat according to their laws. The request may be based on grounds of abuse of power, murder and illegal practices. In events that the sending country reject such requests, those charged cannot be tried by the host country. When the diplomats however return to their home countries, their diplomatic functions may cease and be stripped off of all former privileges and immunities. (The exception is in the case of acts performed in their official capacity, for which there is indefinite residual immunity).
Anne Sacoolas has been charged with causing death by dangerous driving in the case of Harry Dunn, the British teenager who was killed. In a statement issued by Sacoolas’ lawyer, he intimated that she would “not return voluntarily to the United Kingdom” to face trial because this was an incident not a murder. However according to court documents as reported by the CNN, a judge in the United States of America on February 17, 2021, ruled that a civil claim for damages against Anne Sacoolas can be heard in Virginia.
This case particularly brings to bare that, diplomats should be circumspective in their dealings in host countries. They should not hide behind the powers of diplomatic immunity to attempt to get away with certain infractions of the law. This may go a long way to dent the bilateral relationships between countries which can have an adverse impact on areas of cooperation.
By Gracious Kajah,http://www.youngdiplomatsghana.org/blog/2021/04/01/diplomatic-immunity-power-to-get-away-with-murder/http://www.youngdiplomatsghana.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/diplomatic-immunity-500x281.jpeghttp://www.youngdiplomatsghana.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/diplomatic-immunity-500x281-150x150.jpegFeature