TIC Focus l

In USA, the executive branch is entrusted with the responsibility to determine the immunity of the diplomat. In 1978, the President Jimmy Carter delegated this responsibility to the Secretary of the State. It was his task to decide the fate of immunity for diplomats; a decision that was taken more on the political basis than judicial review[1].

The observers have questioned the stance of the State Department over the handling of diplomatic status determination and the cases of criminal offences of the diplomats. The State Department chose to investigate the cases of criminal offences of the diplomat in secrets since they fear the publicity of these cases may bring bad name to the countries of diplomats and hence strain relations with USA[2]. The observers have commented that this policy is insensitive on part of the State Department towards the victims of violent crime as it damages the image of the State Department[3].

Abdul Aziz Dade County recounts an incident of how State Department’s retroactive grant to the Saudi Prince saved USA-KSA ties. The attorney of Dade County acted upon one of the news story published claiming that the servants of Saudi Prince were forced to work twenty hours on slave wages, in isolation from the outer world. The attorney initiated the investigation of the case but Police officials were physically assaulted by the Prince, his mother-in-law and servants as they reached Prince’s home for investigation with the warrant. The Police officers, however, could not find any evidence of slavery[4].

The Prince, who at that time did not possess the diplomatic immunity filed a civil right suit of $210 million against the law enforcement officials of Dade County. The four police officers made claims of the misconduct of the Saudi prince to rebut his claims. The US State Department hence granted Diplomatic Immunity to the Saudi Prince upon his request[5].

The United States Court of Appeals endorsed the decision to dismiss the counter appeal by Police officials on the basis of the granted Diplomatic Immunity to the Prince. The State Department actions enraged the Florida Police and raised questions if the retroactive grant of immunity exploited the privileges. This case, however, reflects the problems confronted by Police officials who are stuck in between the international relations obligations of the United States and the oath they have taken to protect the law[6].

The cases becomes more complex if the Police fails to ascertain the evidences after the offender has claimed diplomatic immunity. In many cases, the offender does not have diplomatic immunity. The reforms pending in Congress though partially help Police officers deal with such complex cases, however, it does eases their struggle between the demands of diplomatic immunity and their duty to protect the law[7].

Abdulaziz v. Metropolitan Dade County illustrates how a State Department retroactive grant of diplomatic immunity attempted to prevent potential strains in international relations. Responding to newspaper reports alleging that the servants of a Saudi Prince living in Florida were forced to work twenty hours a day without contact with the outside world and for slave wages, State attorneys for Dade County began investigating the matter. Police officers, with a search warrant, went to the Prince’s home and upon entrance were assaulted by bodyguards, the Prince’s mother-in-law, and the Prince himself. The police officers found no evidence of the slavery charges. The Prince, who at the time of the incident did not have diplomatic immunity, filed a $210 million civil rights suit against Dade County law enforcement officials.

Four police officers counterclaimed for damages in tort. Responding to a request from the Saudi Government, the State Department conferred a full retroactive grant of diplomatic immunity on the Prince. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the dismissal of the counterclaims against the prince basing its decision on the retroactive grant of immunity. The actions of the State Department incensed Florida law enforcement officials, bringing into question whether this retroactive grant of immunity abused the privilege. Diplomatic crime cases, such as this, illustrate the dilemma confronting local law enforcement. Police officers are trapped between the international obligations of the United States to excuse offenses committed by diplomats, and their oath to uphold the law.”‘ Problems exist when police officers fail to investigate crimes after the offender claims diplomatic immunity. In some cases, the offender may not have diplomatic immunity for the act committed.


[1] Maginnis, Veronica L. “Limiting Diplomatic Immunity: Lessons Learned from the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.” Brook. J. Int’l L. 28 (2002): 989.

[2] Ross, Mitchell S. “Rethinking diplomatic immunity: A review of remedial approaches to address the abuses of diplomatic privileges and immunities.” Am. UJ Intl’l L. & Pol’y 4 (1989): 173.

[3] Richard. Clarke, A. Against all enemies: Inside America’s war on terror. Simon and Schuster, 2008.https://books.google.com.pk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=PvrvHJyxfnwC&oi=fnd&pg=PT14&dq=War+on+Terror+Pakistan&ots=y_xBwT7UPY&sig=OiVFot85dB-AuImQFeJjF5To16A

[4] Fox, Hazel. “Enforcement jurisdiction, foreign state property and diplomatic immunity.” International & Comparative Law Quarterly 34, no. 1 (1985): 115-141.

[5] Wright, Stephen L. “Diplomatic Immunity: A Proposal for Amending the Vienna Convention to Deter Violent Criminal Acts.” BU Int’l LJ 5 (1987): 177.

[6] Wright, Stephen L. “Diplomatic Immunity: A Proposal for Amending the Vienna Convention to Deter Violent Criminal Acts.” BU Int’l LJ 5 (1987): 177.

[7] Hassan. Abbas, Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America’s War on Terror: Allah, the Army, and America’s War on Terror. Routledge, 2015.https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9781317463283


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