Last year, Jarallah al Malki, a Saudi diplomat, who was accused of personally trafficking two “slave” women into London, was told he will not have to compensate for their ordeal because he was protected by diplomatic immunity.
The verdict was outrageous, of course. However, even worse is the latest report from UK’s Foreign Office, according to which human trafficking is one of the 11 “serious and significant” offences recorded in the past year and al Maliki is one of the many foreign representatives to have escaped similar charges.
Newly-appointed Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told British parliament this week that diplomatic officials working in Britain have allegedly been (mis)using their immunity to avoid prosecution for heinous crimes, including child pornography.
For example, a Mexican official has been accused of taking indecent photographs of a child and threatening the child. Another person at the Mexican embassy allegedly made a child aged 13 to 15 to view an image of sexual activity.
A member of the Saudi embassy was also accused of “human trafficking for slavery or servitude or forced or compulsory labor.”
“In 2015, 11 serious and significant offences allegedly committed by people entitled to diplomatic immunity in the United Kingdom were drawn to the attention of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection of the Metropolitan Police, or other law enforcement agencies,” Johnson said in a written statement.
“Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961, those entitled to immunity are expected to obey the law. The FCO does not tolerate foreign diplomats breaking the law. We take all allegations of illegal activity seriously."
Johnson added when crimes are brought to the attention of authorities, the British government asks the relevant foreign government to waive diplomatic immunity of the accused official. That rarely happens, since almost all foreign governments seek to save their reputation abroad. If that’s the case, Johnson added:
“For the most serious offenses, and when a relevant waiver has not been granted, we seek the immediate withdrawal of the diplomat.”
However, withdrawal of the diplomat essentially means the offender can escape the country without suffering any consequences – which is wrong.
And it’s not just the case with the U.K., where around 22,500 people are currently entitled to diplomatic immunity.
Crooked diplomats flee after committing crimes almost everywhere in the world.
Prince Nayef Bin Sultan Bin Fawwaz Al-Shaala allegedly smuggled 1,980 kilograms (4,400 pounds) of cocaine on his private jet in 1999 from Caracas, Venezuela, to Paris, France. Although he escaped trial using his diplomatic immunity, the prince was convicted in absentia in 2007. While his whereabouts are unknown, it’s believed he may be living in Saudi Arabia.
In Pakistan, American national and former CIA contractor killed two (allegedly) armed men in Lahore, Pakistan. Although his diplomatic status was disputed, he managed to escape trial.
In 2013, an American diplomat fled Kenya after killing a person in a head-on collision with a mini-bus in Nairobi.
Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, whose 2014 arrest over treatment of her servant sparked a huge controversy, “escaped” the United States, even as she was re-indicted by a grand jury.
Last year, a senior Saudi diplomat was accused of repeatedly raping and abusing two domestic servants in his luxury apartment in Gurgaon, India. But again, thanks to diplomatic immunity, he escaped.
While Johnson’s report reveals the extent of abuses comitted under the protective cover of diplomatic immunity, there’s isn’t really a solution to the loophole that allows criminals with briefcases to escape – primarily because the system, in general, is set up in that way.
So, perhaps, the system needs to be changed. Maybe?