Diplomatic protection may be absolute but diplomats cannot disregard local laws
Pakistan is probably one of the countries where Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations are most often discussed and quite often the discourse is misinformed.
The issue once again became the center of public debate when an Islamabad-based US diplomat Colonel Joseph Emanuel Hall, working as defense and air attaché at the US Embassy, violated a traffic signal and hit a motorbike at an intersection in the federal capital resulting in the death of the rider Atiq Baig, 22, and injuries to Raheel, who was accompanying rider
The diplomat was taken to a local police station, but later released after he claimed diplomatic immunity. The diplomat did enjoy immunity so we were mercifully spared the debate over whether or not he was entitled to it, but even then we had a range of stories from the diplomat’s attempt to flee the country being foiled by Islamabad Police, to a move for putting him on Exit Control List, and more lately an assertion that his immunity does not prevent a trial.
Much of this is happening not because people do not understand the concept of immunity provided by Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR), which is applicable in this particular case – those in other countries may not either be having a better understanding of one of the oldest concepts of international law that dates back to ancient Greek and Roman governments – but it is due to its poor interpretation by officials and over-enthusiastic journalists, who are too keen to get a new angle into the story.
Dawn newspaper quoted a senior police official as saying, “A case was registered for the crime and there is therefore no doubt that a trial will be conducted. The diplomat has immunity regarding arrest and detention, but not against trial.”
That is in any case a very narrow view of VCDR. The immunities are listed in Articles 29 to 35 of VCDR and one of those Articles states that, “A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State.” Criminal jurisdiction means the power of courts to hear a case brought by a state accusing a defendant of the commission of a crime. This immunity is absolute, except for the qualifications mentioned in Article 31 of VCDR.
Therefore, it would be wrong to suggest that the trial is set to start. It creates wrong expectations among the people. Pakistan has to respect the immunities enjoyed by the diplomats under the international law and ignoring them may complicate our external relations. Moreover, as the entire system of foreign relations is based on the principle of reciprocity any move violating the immunity may cause problems for our diplomats posted in other countries, if they were to fall in a similar situation
Pakistan has a case here. To quote the Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, “visibly traffic law was violated resulting in death of a Pakistani citizen.” Foreign Office must not shy away from seeking waiver of immunity and that is the way forward in the case.
CheersIn case the US Embassy refuses to waive the immunity, Pakistan would then be rightful in expelling the diplomat to express its displeasure.