Diplomatic Immunity – Getting Away With It…

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


NEWSROUND 2/7/2010

Five Ukrainians charged in human trafficking ring in US

Five Ukrainians were charged in Washington with running a human trafficking ring that forced migrants to clean US chain stores such as Target and Walmart. The victims, mainly young Ukrainians, were subjected to rape and other physical violence, slave-like conditions, debt bondage (ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 dollars) and extortion of relatives in Ukraine. One worker was threatened to have her nine-year-old daughter placed into prostitution to pay off family debt.


Diplomats above the law on human trafficking

Foreign Office figures reveal an extraordinary crime spree carried out by embassy workers under the cloak of diplomatic immunity. In the most worrying cases, envoys from Saudi Arabia and Sierra Leone were accused of human trafficking. Under the 1961 Vienna Convention, foreign officials are protected from prosecution in their host country – effectively putting them above the law reportedly for crimes as heinus as molesting an 11 year old girl. Unless their home country agrees to waive their immunity, there is not much the British government can do. Is it time to renegotiate the terms of diplomatic immunity?


Six Arrests in Telford child-sex ring inquiry

Six arrests have been made in connection with a child-sex ring involving teenage girls in Telford. Five men and a woman are allegedly part of a gang which groomed girls aged between 13 and 15 for sex with other men. The case involves the sexual exploitation of nine teenage girls but officers believe there could be up to 40 victims and urged parents to watch for the warning signs of grooming. The whole investigation began because local people came forward with their concerns about unusual behaviour in their communities.


Economic Downturn Fuels Human Trafficking

Twelve more countries are on the US watch list this year for failing to combat trafficking, as the recession makes workers more vulnerable to exploitation. The economic downturn is adding a new dimension to the global problem as workers desperate for income will accept increasingly onerous conditions or fall prey to international cheap-labor rings. This has led to an increase in the number of developing world countries either overlooking rising incidents of trafficking and bondage, or failing to enforce laws they’ve passed to curb the problem.