July 19, 2013
By Brett D. Schaefer
Diplomatic immunity is vital to the conduct of international diplomacy. But it can be abused. In New York City, for example, we frequently hear of diplomats flouting traffic laws and not paying their tickets. According to the New York City Department of Finance, unpaid tickets totaled $16.7 million through the end of July 2011. The most egregious countries were Egypt ($1.9 million) and Nigeria ($1 million).
Governments are required to hold their diplomats accountable. But as the ticket numbers show, this honor system is not always reliable, especially in a culture of corruption. Unsurprisingly, a Forbes map showed that the more corrupt a nation was, the more likely its diplomats were to be ticket scofflaws.
Diplomatic impunity can extend to situations more serious than parking violations. In 2010, a Qatari diplomat sparked an in-flight bomb scare that led the U.S. to scramble F-16s — he escaped legal punishment.
Under the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities, the United Nations itself enjoys diplomatic immunity -- and has been notoriously reluctant to waive it. Earlier this year, the U.N. used diplomatic immunity as a shield after introducing a cholera epidemic that killed 8,000 Haitians.
It is up to the U.S. to pressure reluctant governments and international organizations to police their officials or, when warranted, waive immunity. Since 2002, the U.S. has withheld parking fines from foreign aid payments. Because of this, unpaid parking tickets are a fraction of what they were in the 1990s. Although not always effective, unconventional levers should be applied when the legal gaps of diplomatic immunity inspire diplomatic impunity.
-Brett D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Affairs at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The New York Times
American Leadership Initiative of the Leadership for America Campaign
Brett D. Schaefer
Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs
Read More >>
Request an interview >>
Please complete the following form to request an interview with a Heritage expert.
Please note that all fields must be completed.
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 200,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Read More
© 2013, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973