For diplomats who break the law...

For diplomats who break the law...

The Vienna convention on diplomatic relations may let diplomats get away with murder, but it is still the only option. An unassuming document at first sight (53 articles, couched in technical language), it has over the years become the bible for diplomats around the world. It gives almost unlimited immunity to diplomatic agents.

 The treaty also makes clear that diplomats have duties too: they must respect the laws of the state they are stationed in; they must not interfere with that country’s internal affairs.

The diplomatic bag must only contain articles for official use (not kidnapped opposition politicians), and the collection of information can only be carried out by “lawful means” (not by bugging the state department).

But these duties are, on the whole, toothless tigers. Diplomats who commit crimes still can't be arrested. There are very few sanctions the receiving state can use against them. You can summon the diplomat to the foreign office, warn him, expel him. But expulsions can stand for anything. As a sanction, they have pretty much lost their sting.

Moreover, diplomats move in the world of politics and negotiation. For some receiving countries, the temptation would be just too great to use threats of arrest as a tool of political bargaining.

Thus, the shortcomings of the Vienna convention cannot be denied – absolute diplomatic immunity in particular is difficult to defend from a moral point of view.

On the contrary, what makes the Vienna convention an outstanding success is its pragmatism; the fact that it was content to settle for the realities of diplomatic relations.
By so doing, it established a basis for diplomacy with which all states, across all ideological divides, can live. Today, no fewer than 187 countries are party to the convention, which has thus become a treaty that has found the agreement of virtually the entire world.

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