Diplomatic Immunity: What Is It
and Why Is It Necessary?
Recently, in New York City, a Georgian Republic diplomat was witnessed committing an egregious act.
He was observed speeding on a residential street and killing a young woman when his car skidded out of control.
Police have reported they suspect he was under the influence of alcohol at the time. International agreements forbid
local authorities from arresting the diplomat. Diplomats are immune from arrest, trial, and punishment for acts they
commit in host nations. Most diplomats' family members, and those who officially work for them are likewise
immune. Whenever a high profile diplomat misbehaves or whenever a highly charged offense is committed by
someone with diplomatic immunity, a great howl of indignation and a cry to repeal such immunity is heard. The
recent case is no exception.
Confusion over why diplomatic immunity exists is understand-able as the concept is unclear to most
people; and anger over crimes not being punished is expected due to our society's norms. However, immunity is
necessary for our diplomats' protection and, as events have unfolded in this most recent case, immunity is not as
iron clad as some believe.
Most nations exchange Ambassadors, officials who represent their home counties in social, political,
economic, trade and commerce, agricultural, and other matters of mutual concern. Such representation requires that
unpopular and controversial stances, at times, be taken on sensitive issues. Such stands may unsettle, agitate, and
infuriate religious, political, and even legal leaders in host nations. Such reactions by powerful and influential local
elite might, if diplomatic immunity was not in force, prompt the arrest, trial, and punishment of Ambassadors and/or
their families and staffs. Constant arrests for petty matters could be employed to disrupt normal embassy activity.
These ambassadors live with their families and staffs in host countries. Many nations have law