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    The Untouchables: The Harry Dunn Case Highlights The Dangers of Diplomatic Immunity

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    Under Article 29 of the 1961 Vienna Convention diplomats cannot be arrested or detained and are immune from prosecution in 192 countries, although their home nation can waive their immunity. Only South Sudan has not ratified the convention.

    President Donald Trump has offered to talk to the wife of a US official with diplomatic immunity who was allegedly involved in a fatal road accident which killed a British citizen.

    On Wednesday, 9 October, Trump said the death of 19-year-old Harry Dunn was a "terrible accident" and said he would see if he could do something to create some “healing” for the teenager’s family.

    The Guardian reported that a Washington Post photographer had taken a picture of the briefing note Mr Trump was given prior to the press conference which said: “(If raised) Note, as Secretary Pompeo [US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo] told Raab [UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab], that the spouse of the US government employee will not return to the United Kingdom.”

    ​It is not the first time that the question of diplomatic immunity has been raised in relation to a criminal investigation.

    Murder of Yvonne Fletcher, 1984

    On 17 April 1984 WPC Yvonne Fletcher, a Metropolitan Police officer, was shot dead from a window of the Libyan embassy in London.

    Ms Fletcher, 25, had been policing a protest of Libyan dissidents and it is thought the gunman was aiming at the protesters when he shot her.

    The embassy was besieged for 11 days but after high level negotiations between the government of Margaret Thatcher and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, all those inside were put on a plane and deported to Tripoli, having claimed diplomatic immunity.

    Britain severed diplomatic relations with Libya, which would only be restored by Tony Blair in 1999 after Gaddafi handed over two suspects accused of the Lockerbie bombing.

    In 2017 a fresh investigation into the murder was dropped amid national security fears.

    The Fletcher family told The Guardian: “We are deeply disappointed and frustrated that a prosecution cannot proceed at this time. We had hoped that the latest turn of events would finally lead to some closure for the family.”

    Colombian Charged With Murder, 2002

    In 2002 a security officer at the Colombian embassy in London was accused of murdering a 23-year-old man outside a supermarket in the city.

    Jairo Soto-Mendoza had diplomatic immunity but UK Prime Minister Tony Blair raised the case with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who agreed to waive his immunity.

    The 45-year-old, a sergeant-major in Colombia’s elite special forces, was eventually acquitted of murdering Damian Broom.

    The trial heard Broom had mugged Soto-Mendoza’s son Jairo and stolen his credit cards and the Colombian chased him across a supermarket car park, before stabbing him.

    Soto-Mendoza, who had claimed self-defence, flew back to Colombia after his acquittal.

    Diplomat Accused of Rape. 2018

    In December 2018 the Foreign Office said a diplomat had been expelled from the UK after allegations of rape and attempted rape.

    The diplomat was deported after their home country - which was never identified rejected a request to waive their immunity.

    The rapes were among 12 serious offences allegedly committed by people with  diplomatic immunity in London in 2017.

    An Algerian diplomat was accused of sexual assault, an Egyptian was accused of blackmail and a Cambodian was accused of possessing a gun.

    Austrian diplomats were reported for drink-driving and Finnish and Saudi officials were accused of driving without insurance.

    Smuggling Cocaine in Diplomatic Bags, 2016

    In December 2016 police in Argentina seized 400 kilograms worth of cocaine which had been hidden in diplomatic bags. 

    They had been tipped off by the Russian ambassador, who suspected a member of his technical staff.

    The cocaine was replaced with flour and tracking devices were added and after an investigation five people were arrested in February 2018. 

    The Afghan on his Way to Crazy Eddie’s, 1987

    On a sweltering day in July 1987 a high-ranking Afghan diplomat was accused of ramming a woman with his car in New York after a hot-tempered dispute over a parking space.

    Shah Mohammad Dost, Afghanistan’s envoy to the UN and a former foreign minister, was reported by the New York Times to be on his way to buy an air conditioner at a store called Crazy Eddie’s in Queens.

    He was angry when Margaret Curry grabbed the last parking space outside the store and ran into her with his car.

    Ms Curry was taken to hospital with cuts and bruises but Dost played the diplomatic immunity card when the NYPD tried to charge him.

    The Soviet-backed government in Kabul claimed Mrs Curry had not been hit by the car but had “got excited and tripped as she left the street.”

    Dost was recalled to Kabul shortly after the incident and is believed to have been killed by the Taliban shortly after President Najibullah in 1996.

    Parking Tickets

    Every capital city in the world suffers the same problem - diplomatic staff openly flouting road traffic laws, using their immunity.

    In 1996 it was reported that diplomat based at the United Nations in New York had racked up 143,508 parking tickets, totalling US$15.8 million in fines, none of which was ever paid because of diplomatic immunity.

    In 2008 the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, criticised the US ambassador and his staff for failing to pay thousands of pounds in congestion charge fees.

    Johnson’s predecessor, Ken Livingstone, had called the US ambassador a "chiselling little crook" for failing to pay the charge for the embassy’s cars.

    Johnson told a public meeting: " I think it's the Geneva convention [it’s actually the Vienna convention] which prevents me from slapping an Asbo [anti-social behaviour order] on every single diplomat who fails to pay, I think it's an unbelievable scandal. The Swiss typically have come forward with trying to broker some kind of deal, I'm very keen that whatever deal we do should reflect the fact that these people are using London's roads. This is not a tax, this is a charge for the use of our roads, and I believe the diplomatic community should have the decency to pay it. I intend to stick to that decision."

     

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    United Kingdom, United States, Donald Trump, diplomatic immunity
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