As a child I spent a few years languishing in an annoyingly posh primary school feeling a bit out of place. With a trumped-up school comes a trumped-up version of the typical school bully. I can’t remember his name, but this nine-year-old was extremely well-versed in international criminal law, which he used to devastatingly good effect.
It was okay for him to steal our football because, he said, he had “diplomatic immunity”.
“No one will listen” to the fact that he had used my felt-tip pens without asking me because, he said, he had “diplomatic immunity”.
He managed to say it with enough condescending conviction that he probably could’ve used it as an excuse to exploit anyone.
The law of the playground is very much a law unto itself – a kind of rogue-state operating mob-rule. But in the actually real, supposedly civilised world of grown-ups, diplomatic immunity is at times still being used as an excuse to exploit anyone.
Diplomatic immunity is an agreement between countries which guarantees that diplomats can’t be prosecuted under one another’s laws. So, for example, foreign envoys across the world owe their host countries countless millions of dollars in unpaid driving fines. But this isn’t the biggest cause for concern.
In the US alone, there have been at least 12 cases of foreign diplomats trafficking men, women or children from their own countries to work for them as domestic slaves. Lured by the promise of legitimate employment, these victims have instead been subject to a catalogue of abuse:
– Passport and immigration papers confiscated (not punishable due to diplomatic immunity)
– Forced labour with negligible or no pay (not punishable due to diplomatic immunity)
– Prevented from going out unaccompanied (not punishable due to diplomatic immunity)
– Subjected to physical and/or sexual mistreatment (you guessed it…)
In the last year, two diplomats based in the UK from Sierra Leone and Saudi Arabia have been suspected of the above, but couldn’t be prosecuted. Successfully bringing traffickers to justice is already hard enough without antiquated international agreements giving them a cloak to hide behind.
Diplomats getting involved with human trafficking, knowing full well that they can get away with it, is shockingly common. At the best of times human trafficking is an appalling, inexcusable [insert most negative descriptors] crime, but the fact that diplomatic immunity is getting people off the hook for it is as baffling as it is sickening.
Angry? Frustrated? Us too. There needs to be a re-negotiation of diplomatic immunity to ensure that diplomats stop exploiting both the law and vulnerable people.
STOP THE TRAFFIK is in the process of equipping our ACT groups with the skills and resources to tackle trafficking for the purpose of domestic servitude in their local communities. Find out more about our Active Communities against Trafficking groups and how you can get involved here: http://www.stopthetraffik.org/takeaction/act/default.aspx