New Delhi: Diplomatic immunity is a principle of international law by which certain foreign government officials are not subject to the jurisdiction of local courts and other authorities. The concept of immunity began with ancient tribes. In order to exchange information, messengers were allowed to travel from tribe to tribe without fear of harm. They were protected even when they brought bad news. Today, immunity protects the channels of diplomatic communication by exempting diplomats from local jurisdiction so that they can perform their duties with freedom, independence, and security. Diplomatic immunity is not meant to benefit individuals personally; it is meant to ensure that foreign officials can do their jobs. Under the concept of reciprocity, diplomats assigned to any country in the world benefit equally from diplomatic immunity.
Barely a day before he was scheduled to land in the United States, a federal court has issued a summons to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Multiple media reports indicate that the summons was issued by the Federal Court of Southern District of New York in response to a civil case filed by the human rights group American Justice Centre (AJC) on behalf of two Gujarat riots victims.More details about the lawsuit are likely to emerge on Friday when the American Justice Center will hold a press conference at the Grand Hyatt in New York.
Diplomatic privileges and immunities guarantee that diplomatic agents or members of their immediate family:
Diplomatic immunity is a special law that covers people who work in embassies or consulates.
A diplomat can work without interference from the police and government of the country where he works. Diplomatic immunity means that a diplomat can keep the secrets of his own country’s government, without the government of the host country being able to find out about them. Police from the host country cannot arrest a diplomat, or search a diplomat’s house or office. They cannot even give a diplomat’s car a parking ticket without the permission of the diplomat’s government. Honorary consuls only work part-time as diplomats, so only have diplomatic immunity when working as diplomats. Police may search their offices, but not the part where they keep their diplomatic work.
The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 codified most modern diplomatic and consular practices, including diplomatic immunity. More than 160 nations are parties to these treaties. The conventions provide immunity to persons according to their rank in a diplomatic mission or consular post and according to the need for immunity in performing their duties. For example, diplomatic agents and members of their immediate families are immune from all criminal prosecution and most civil law suits. Administrative and technical staff members of embassies have a lower level of immunity. Consular officers serving in consulates throughout the country have an even lower level of immunity. Members of an embassy’s service staff and consular employees are immune only for acts performed as part of their official duties
It is true that diplomats are exempt from the criminal, civil and administrative jurisdiction of the host country.
It is also within the discretion of the host country to declare any member of the diplomatic staff of a mission persona non grata (or unwanted person). This may be done at any time and there is no obligation to explain such a decision. In these situations, the home country, as a rule, would recall the person or terminate his/her function with the mission.
The Vienna Convention provides for specific measures that can be taken by both the home and host countries in cases of misuse or abuse of diplomatic privileges and immunities. On the whole, diplomatic privileges and immunities have served as efficient tools facilitating relations between States. No UN Member State has so far proposed rescinding the Convention or re-writing its provisions.