Why is diplomatic immunity even a thing? Why was this particular job decided to be above the law?


Why is diplomatic immunity even a thing? Why was this particular job decided to be above the law?

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it’s not really above the law. it’s been agreed to in international conventions. The idea behind it is that being able to send people to foreign countries without the risk of imprisonment or death is beneficial to maintaining diplomatic relations. So that’s what we do.

Because mistreating emissaries has an extremely long history of causing conflicts and ongoing escalating reprisals. Have you ever heard about the Mongol Empire. They are a great case study in what happens when emissaries are mistreated.

We want diplomats to be able to do their job, even in situations where the hosting nation is undergoing civil strife or is hostile. Diplomatic immunity is a courtesy extended by the host in order to ensure that. It allows diplomats to come and go, and not be held hostage by trumped up charges. That could lead to a spiral of tit-for-tats that can easily escalate into a crisis. And on a more prosaic note, it helps keep friction to a minimum when diplomats may not be fully aware of all the legalities of the host nation, like accidentally jaywalking or something.

Note that this doesn’t mean you can get away with anything. It is customary and expected for the diplomat’s home country to waive immunity in the case of egregious criminality. Since diplomatic immunity is bilateral – “I’ll give your guys immunity of you give my guys it too” – failure to play nice can often cause a diplomatic spat.

It’s to prevent diplomatic incidents and/or bullshit where the hosting country rounds up/arrests/harasses diplomats. The idea is that no matter how bad relations between two countries get the diplomats will be safe and should relationships sour to the point of total diplomatic breakdown the diplomats will be sent home, rather than imprisoned.

**Most** of the time countries try to make sure their diplomats are well behaved and avoid incidents, nobody wants that.

Diplomats aren’t above all the laws. If a diplomat robbed a liquor store at gunpoint, the cops are going to come in guns blazing. What they’re NOT going to do is toss them into the local jail — instead, they’re going to exile them.

Why? This is a literal case of “don’t shoot the messenger.” A lot of diplomats represent countries that are unpopular with their host nation’s local population. But if the host takes out their frustrations on the diplomat, well, now you can’t communicate with that country nearly as effectively anymore. Maybe in a place with really honest cops and courts, this isn’t a problem, but in a lot of the world, there’s a real fear of false arrest. So Diplomatic Immunity is a simple way to keep the diplomat safe.

Yes, it’s abused. But repeated abuse makes the diplomat’s whole country look terrible, which is precisely the opposite of what a diplomat is paid to do. So the abuses stay rare enough to make the rule worth keeping.