Sensational crimes committed by envoys while abroad are rare – but why should diplomats have all the immunity?
Mon 2 Dec 2019 09.58 ESTLast modified on Mon 2 Dec 2019 10.24 EST
Aheinous crime is committed, witnesses and evidence abounds. As soon as the cuffs come out, the villain flashes his embassy ID and utters two words: “Diplomatic immunity.” Realizing their suspect can’t be arrested, the cops can only grimace. Justice is mocked and the diplomat walks.
This familiar scenario has been a Hollywood staple for decades. IMDb lists 50 titles on its Most Popular Diplomatic Immunity Movie and TV Shows page, from Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) to NCIS: New Orleans (2018).
Recent headlines, though, are a stark reminder that diplomatic immunity is more than just a hack plot device: A Teen’s Death Has Put Diplomatic Immunity Under a Spotlight (Time), British Fury as an American Cites Diplomatic Immunity (the Economist). Don’t Abuse Diplomatic Immunity (Toledo Blade). That’s how the media covered the story of Harry Dunn, a British teenager who died in August after his motorcycle was struck by a Volvo SUV traveling on the wrong side of the road in Northamptonshire, England.
The driver, Anne Sacoolas, claimed diplomatic immunity and fled the UK on a private jet. The UK foreign secretary later admitted in the House of Commons that local police had no authority to detain Sacoolas. Public outrage and op-ed vitriol ensued.