diplomatic immunity

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Reciprocal privilege of the exemption from the local laws granted by one State to the diplomats of another. Its objective is to allow foreign diplomats the freedom to carry out their legitimate official duties without interference, and does not amount to an open invitation to do whatever they please without fear of punishment. The basis of diplomatic immunity is expediency and reciprocity, not absolute license. A foreign diplomat (like a local citizen) can be charged for all offenses committed, whether big or small. The only difference is that he or she (upon verification of diplomatic identity) may not be arrested, held in legal custody, or made a defendant in a court case.
Instead, he or she is deported through due process to his or her home country to face prosecution under its laws. Diplomats who are serious offenders or indulge in activities contrary to their official status may be declared persona non grata and be forced to go back within a few days or even hours. The concept of diplomatic immunity goes back to the ancient Indian practice of diplomacy and to Greek republics and Roman empires who enacted specific laws to protect diplomats. Modern international practice is rooted in the 1708 UK law that prohibited the arrest of foreign diplomats. Its provisions were expanded and formally guaranteed by the 1815 congress of Vienna, and were further amplified by the 1961 Vienna Convention On Diplomatic Relations. See also ambassador.


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