Diplomatic Immunity: The Collision of Politics and Doing the Right Thing
by an Anonymous Irishman
Christ that looks so awkward now that I read it back to myself. But c’est la vie.
This isn’t going to be some Eurocentric rant about guns, healthcare, or socialism (let’s not say never though. Throwing petrol onto flame has its time and place). It’s just something that’s been on my mind for the last few days.
Most of you are probably familiar by now with the case of Harry Dunn and Anne Sacoolas. I won’t go through it in detail but basically, a car supposedly driven by the latter fatally collided with the former’s motorbike while driving on the wrong side of the road. The issue is that Anne Sacoolas is a U.S. citizen and the crash happened in the U.K. As the main suspect she had told police that she had no plans to leave but then fled the country. What complicates it further is that she is married to a U.S. diplomat and thus has “diplomatic immunity“.
That phrase probably conjures up images of a cackling Afrikaner and Danny Glover’s famous one liner but it’s a concept that is centuries old. The modern interpretation of it is based on the 1961 Vienna Convention, which basically states that diplomats or their families cannot be arrested or prosecuted for any crime or civil case. It’s like how an embassy is usually considered off-limits (we’ll not bring up Tehran in 1979 or London the following year). However the flip side of this is that those entitled to immunity are expected to obey the law.
It’s a privilege that is frequently abused by diplomats worldwide. On one end of the scale is the evasion of parking tickets and other fines. The extreme end of the spectrum covers murder and other despicable crimes. Immunity is only lost if a country formally requests that the diplomat’s government waive it so they can be tried. It happens, but not a lot.
I’m not here to rant about the suspect. It’s up to the justice system to determine whether they’re guilty or not (though fleeing the country is quite damning in the eyes of many). The name going up online is almost like a 21st equivalent of the stocks. I’m giving out more about the whole message it sends. You have a grieving family for their 19 year old son and the main suspect isn’t even available for questioning.
It pisses me off and it seems to have pissed off a lot of people on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s definitely confirmed to me that a lot of this hullabaloo about the ‘special relationship’ between the U.K. and USA is a lot of bollocks. You’ve Boris Johnson and Donald Trump and a whole host of officials spouting a whole load of nothing but as it currently stands, there’ll be no waiving of diplomatic immunity or a return to the UK to help with the investigation. It’s not something up to the suspect and I’m not without sympathy for her either. Only the government is able to waive immunity for a case so regardless of her personal views, she must abide by their decision.
I understand the need for diplomatic immunity, I do. But fucking hell, you’re not being asked to send someone to North Korea or Syria to face a firing squad. I’d gladly rant about the Brits until the cows come home but they’re not going to be holding some sort of communist show trial. I understand the reluctance to set a precedent too but it’s not like that the U.S. hasn’t extradited citizens to the UK before either.
Leaving geopolitics aside, think of it on a more personal level. A few of my American friends were the ones who said “Imagine if it was the other way round” and to be fair, the general public do seem to be taking that perspective. America and Britain are extremely different but they’re not so much that they’re wholly alien. It’s easy to imagine the reverse happening (and no doubt it has, if not with the U.K. than definitely with somewhere else).
I’m an old fashioned bollocks in the sense that I feel grievously wronged when someone breaks their word (I hear the crowd shout “Gullible!”) so I find the whole affair scummy. The U.S. (well the NYPD or MPD (Metropolitan Police District) to be specific) has enough experience with countries abusing privileges that I’m appalled more isn’t coming out of it. Especially when it involves a country praised as its strongest ally.
It seems to be the latest in a number of little spots of bother between the two countries. Watching the U.S. and U.K. interact reminds me at times of a constantly feuding couple who will reassure the neighbours ‘everything’s fine’. There’s another investigation currently being conducted about the death of a British officer involving a U.S. National Guardsman. As a whole though, the Sacoolas affair is more damaging for the U.K. than it is the U.S. The latter have spent most of the last century as ‘The World’s Policeman’ or ‘The Great Satan’ in the eyes of numerous countries, they’re used to negative opinion. For the British, it’s been a bit of a shock. Especially at a time where they’ve found themselves increasingly isolated in Europe and turning their heads westwards cross the Atlantic. It’s another blow to a country that still clings to the trappings of empire.
I understand countries renege on deals all the time but for most of the last century, they’ve been right in there with you. Suez or the Falklands notwithstanding, the British have been your firmest allies for much of recent history. Korea, the Cold War, the Gulf Wars, Afghanistan, they’ve been by your side, usually the first to follow your lead. It’s quite shabby treatment of what has been a good friend to the U.S. for decades.
Feel free to tell me to fuck off back to my afternoon tea but I’ve no horse in this race. I’m Irish, not British. I’m not saying what should be done for strategic or diplomatic reasons, I’m just asking for a bit of common sense and decency.
Do the right thing.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal October 16, 2019.