Commentary: Diplomatic immunity and human rights


By Felicia Browne

Diplomatic immunity involves exemption from the enforcement of one or more laws of a host country granted to resident foreign diplomats. Its purpose is to ensure that the official duties of foreign ambassadors are not impeded. Some of the most important protections granted under diplomatic immunity include the inviolability of one’s person and premises, exemption from taxation and freedom from civil and criminal law enforcement/prosecution by local authorities.

Felicia Browne is a feminist philosopher at the University of the West Indies and human rights and peace ambassador for the region

Although the rationale for diplomatic immunity has merit, its application as a means to undermine the International human rights of individuals or groups constitutes an abuse of power.

The Saint Lucia government’s decision to uphold a diplomatic envoy’s immunity in a civil matter represents such an abuse and is a clear violation of Christina Estrada‘s human rights. She notes a major omission in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations agreement in that it was not designed to protect the rights of victims who may be affected by diplomatic immunity. Such victims typically belong to the most vulnerable groups, i.e., women and children, many of whom have little or no access to legal representation or redress.

There are known instances where many victims are left without compensation or retribution for the harms done against them, such as in cases of human trafficking and migrant domestic workers.

Although the state has the right to engage foreign nationals to assist in government work, with its engagement in a purely civil matter involving Dr Walid Juffali, it should be acting to ensure that both parties receive the justice that they deserve without any form of prejudice or bias.

Women have universal rights, which include access to legal representation; regardless of their economic status or nationality. There are some countries which may not promote these rights, so it is our responsibility as a progressive society to demand that they uphold these rights, especially when our policy makers fail to do so. We must make it absolutely clear that any form of gender discrimination is unacceptable.

Although diplomatic immunity is recognized under International law, we must speak out when its application constitutes an abuse of power and undermines the rights of victims who do not enjoy diplomatic privileges. If we uphold and promote these rights for women and girls in such matters of International human rights, it can only help to move our communities and nation forward in becoming a truly just and humane society.



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