Diplomatic immunity

From ArticleWorld

Diplomatic immunity is a special privilege accorded to diplomats and their families that protect them from physical harm, civil action or criminal prosecution under the laws of the host nation. Diplomatic immunity is accorded to people who need to carry out significant official work (generally concerning relations between the home country and the host country) without needing to worry about flouting minor host country rules and without spending time in learning the culture of the host country.


The principle of diplomatic immunity may be traced to ancient times and ancient tribes. In order to exchange information, messengers were allowed to travel from place to place without fear of harm. They were protected even when they brought bad news. But there are innumerable examples dating from the olden times of both kinds of treatment - good and bad - by the host country towards officials of foreign nations. Since the behavior of individual countries towards foreigners depended upon the whims and fancies of certain individuals, some uniform rules and regulations were laid down at the ‘Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations’ in 1961 to ensure protection of members of the diplomatic corps in all countries.

Use and Abuse

Diplomatic privileges and immunities guarantee that diplomatic agents or members of their immediate family:

  1. may not be arrested or detained
  2. may not have their residences entered and searched
  3. may not be subpoenaed as witnesses
  4. may not be prosecuted

The concept underlying diplomatic immunity is that representatives can carry out their duties efficiently and effectively only if they are a granted some exemption from the standard law practices of the host country. Diplomatic immunity is not meant to benefit individuals personally; it is meant to ensure that foreign officials can do their jobs without let or hindrance. However, this rule can cut both ways. For sometimes it leads to flouting of rules and committing of minor offences by diplomats and their families almost as part of their daily routine. Of course, when these minor peccadilloes become major offences, then the laws of the host country can pursue diplomats who break the law and the persons responsible may be deported to their home country for prosecution.