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Ex.1 Read the text and single out the main issues addressed in it. Prepare questions for discussion

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Ex.2 Write out the key vocabulary and make use of it to summarize the text.

Diplomatic agents and other members of the staff of a mission who are nationals or permanent residents of the host state


Diplomatic agents who are nationals or permanent residents of the state in which they are serving are entitled only to immunity from jurisdiction and personal inviolability in respect of official acts performed in the exercise of their functions, though other privileges and immunities may be granted in particular states. Other (non-diplomatic) members of the staff of a mission and private servants who are nationals or permanent residents of the state in which they are serving enjoy only those privileges and immunities that the host state considers appropriate. Any limitations placed on persons in these categories, however, must be such as not to interfere unduly with the performance of the functions of their mission.

Ex.1 Formulate questions from each part of the text. Ask your classmates to answer them:

What is diplomatic immunity?

Presented by Mr. Clay Hays at the Las Vegas Conference in March


Mr. Hays is the Chief of Community Relations, Diplomatic Motor Vehicle (DMV) Office at the U.S. Department of State. He joined DMV in 1986 and has designed and implemented the Department's driver licensing and driver control programs. He currently serves as nationwide coordinator for the DMV's fraud prevention and law enforcement training efforts, and also serves as the DMV's legislative liaison. Prior to that, he spent 20 years with the U.S. Army in military intelligence working primarily in the fields of counter-terrorism and technical intelligence. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Slavic Studies granted by the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and has completed graduate studies in Soviet Studies at the Joint Military Intelligence College, Washington, DC.

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 for both their official and, to a large extent, their personal activities. The principle of diplomatic immunity is one of the oldest elements of foreign relations. Ancient Greek and Roman governments, for example, accorded special status to envoys, and the basic concept has evolved and endured until the present. As a matter of international law, diplomatic immunity was primarily based on custom and international practice until quite recently. In the period since World War II, a number of international conventions (most noteworthy, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations) have been concluded. These conventions have formalized the customary rules and made their application more uniform.

Notwithstanding the antiquity of the concept of diplomatic immunity, its purpose is often misunderstood by the citizens of this and other countries. Occasional abuses of diplomatic immunity, which are brought to public attention, have also served to prejudice public attitudes toward this practice. Dealing with the concept of immunity poses particular problems for law enforcement officers who, by virtue of their oath and training, are unaccustomed to granting special privileges or concessions to individuals who break the law. On the other hand, police officers who understand the importance of diplomatic immunity may be inclined to be overly generous in its application if they do not have a full understanding of its parameters.

The term diplomatic immunity is popularly and erroneously understood to refer to special protections afforded all employees of foreign governments who are present in the United States as official representatives of their home governments. Law enforcement officials, however, must have a more sophisticated understanding of the concept. There are over 100,000 representatives of foreign governments, including dependents, in the United States. Many of these persons may be entitled to some degree of immunity under international law. Some of these persons are members of diplomatic missions, others are assigned to consular posts, and still others are employees of international organizations or members of national missions to such international organizations. For each of these categories of persons, particular rules apply and, even within these categories, different levels of immunity may be accorded to different classes of persons. Most of these persons are assigned to Washington, D.C., and New York City, but large numbers are assigned in other major cities around the country. Moreover, nearly all of these persons are free to travel around the country either on official business or for pleasure.

The special privileges and immunities accorded with foreign diplomatic and consular representatives assigned to the United States reflect rules developed among the nations of the world regarding the manner in which civilized international relations must be conducted. The underlying concept is that foreign representatives can carry out their duties effectively only if they are accorded a certain degree of insulation from the application of standard law enforcement practices of the host country. The United States benefits greatly from the concept as it protects U.S. diplomats assigned to countries with judicial systems far different from our own.

While customary international law continues to refine the concepts of diplomatic and consular immunity, the basic rules are currently embodied in international treaties. These treaties have been formally adopted by the United States and are, therefore, pursuant to the U.S. Constitution, “the supreme law of the land”. The U.S. Government is legally bound to ensure that such privileges and immunities are respected by its states and municipalities.

U.S. law regarding diplomatic immunity has its roots in England. In 1708, the British Parliament formally recognized diplomatic immunity and banned the arrest of foreign envoys. In 1790, the Unites States passed similar legislation, which provided absolute immunity for diplomats, their families and servants, as well as for lower ranking diplomatic personnel. This law remained in force until 1978, when the present Diplomatic Relations Act was enacted to replace it. The principle purpose of the 1978 Act was to bring U.S. law into line with the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (which entered into force for the United States in 1972). The 1978 Act imposed a more precise regime and reduced the degree of immunity enjoyed by many persons at diplomatic missions.

On a practical level, failure of the authorities of the United States to respect fully the immunities of foreign diplomatic and consular personnel may complicate diplomatic relations between the United States and the other country concerned. It may also lead to harsher treatment of U.S. personnel abroad. The principle of reciprocity has, from the most ancient times, been integral to diplomatic and consular relations.

It should be emphasized that even at its highest level, diplomatic immunity does not exempt diplomatic officers from obligation of conforming with national and local laws and regulations. Diplomatic immunity is not intended to serve as a license for persons to flout the law and purposely avoid liability for their actions. The purpose of these privileges and immunities is not to benefit individuals, but to ensure the efficient and effective performance of their official missions on behalf of their governments. This is a crucial point for law enforcement officers to understand in their dealings with foreign diplomatic and consular personnel. While police officers are obliged, under international customary and treaty law, to recognize the immunity of the envoy, they must not ignore or concede the commission of crimes.

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