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The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations is a treaty between countries which generally grants to the official representative of a country certain privileges by the receiving country, on the presumption of reciprocity, e.g. we will grant immunity from prosecution to your official diplomats in our country as long as you do the same for ours when they're in your country.

Diplomatic immunity, the next step in "not shooting the messenger" etiquette, is supposed to protect diplomats from being harassed for political reasons. In fiction, this can be a handy device, as it answers the question of "why don't they just arrest him?" quite neatly. Quite often, it's the villains who are protected by it - their immunity from the cops means that it's left to the hero to bring them down vigilante-style. Visiting heads of state get something similar, so every President Evil presumably has it automatically, although it isn't necessarily included in the plot. There are also heroes who have it, but for them, it's often a rather flimsy shield.

Related to this is the principle that the grounds of embassies should be treated (only treated, mind) as part of the owning country for legal purposes. This provides characters with a place to retreat to where they will supposedly be safe from pursuit - again, they're often villains who will smugly inform the hero that they can't follow. Likewise the immunity of sealed 'Diplomatic Bags' from customs searches may be used by a diplomatic villain as an easy way to smuggle illegal items.

And then there are cars with diplomatic plates, which are supposedly immune to all traffic and parking regulations. In reality, while it's perfectly possible to issue them a ticket, it's difficult at best to make them actually pay the fine. Some countries, surprisingly enough, do pay their parking tickets when official vehicles are ticketed.

Diplomatic immunity only applies to recognized diplomats and specific portions of their families; agents not officially in the country ("Non official cover" or hidden spies) can't claim it. Committing major crimes under the cover of diplomatic immunity would cause a serious international incident. Take murder, for example. If a foreign country protects a diplomat accused of murder from all consequences, they would appear to approve of the murder, making it an assassination by that country, which is an act of war. While diplomatic immunity is abused, serious abuse is playing with fire so diplomatic immunity can be revoked by the issuing country's foreign affairs office or by shooting the diplomat in the head...whichever comes first.

In real life, it's never taken that seriously. If a diplomat did something really bad in the host country, either the sending country would strip them of their immunity allowing the host country to try them, or, if they won't, the host country will declare them "persona non grata" (PNG), a fancy latin term roughly equivalent to "you've worn out your welcome, get out of the country" meaning they either have to leave the country within a reasonable time, or they have to give up their diplomatic immunity and be an ordinary tourist (at which point they could be prosecuted). In some cases, if the sending country is going to prosecute them instead, they will recall the person back to the home country, often before the host country PNG's them.

The accuracy of depictions varies considerably.

See also Ass in Ambassador, where the diplomat only has to be a jerk. Compare Sacred Hospitality.

Examples of Diplomatic Impunity include:


Anime & Manga

  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
    • In one episode a hacker tries to defend himself from Section 9 by saying that he's the son of the Canadian ambassador. In fact, Section 9 had already sought and received consent from the Canadians to proceed.
    • In another case, a Russian criminal who's been trafficking in humans happens to have unwittingly kidnapped the daughter of the former Japanese Prime Minister. Said criminal tries to run to the embassy but they close the automatic gates on her before she has a chance to get in.
    • At the climax of the second season, the Big Bad takes a job with the American Empire, complete with extradition, in order to give himself a quasi-form of this. Section 9, which at that point have had quite enough, decide to risk the diplomatic backlash and assassinate him.
  • Early on in Code Geass R2, the Black Knights take refuge in the Chinese Federation's embassy (having Geassed the ambassador into submission).
  • In the Fujiyama Gangsta Paradise arc of Black Lagoon, Balalaika essentially gets away with creating a yakuza civil war by pulling a few strings and getting the Russian Ambassador to escort her away from her last hit and away from a huge police dragnet, who don't know who she is apart from the fact that an Ambassador just came to pick her up.
  • In Until Death Do Us Part, bad guy Edge Turus invokes this against Mamoru. It doesn't work, and he ends up losing an arm and a leg.
  • In Umineko no Naku Koro ni, Sakutaro has this as a superpower.
  • Level E. Prince Baka Ki El Dogra is an enormous jerk and knows it, but no one can do anything about him because he is a prince, and by the way of a recently concluded diplomatic treaty (which he orchestrated in a first part) he is in effect a protector of the Earth. He still gets beaten a lot though.


Comic Books

  • Fantastic Four. Doctor Doom, as ruler of Latveria, enjoys the head-of-state version when on official visits, but he's fair game when visiting on other occasions.
    • In one Fantastic Four story, Reed Richards and his family go to Latveria and take it over briefly so they can dismantle Doom's assets while he's suffering from a temporary death. They're eventually challenged by Nick Fury and arrested due to breaking international law by occupying the country, regardless of the fact that they're removing the tools Doom used to oppress the populace. Eventually it's pointed out to Fury that in addition to being a murderous tyrant, Dr. Doom broke international law and committed horrible crimes just about every other day on both his own and foreign soil, yet somehow neither the United Nations or any authority ever revoked his diplomatic immunity or attempted to remove him from power. This has never been brought up again.
    • The first storyline of Mighty Avengers had Iron Man march his team of Avengers right into Latveria, fight and arrest Doom for something he didn't even start (a symbiote invasion - he had a satellite that started it, but he didn't initiate it). He promptly escaped during Secret Invasion and wasn't touched since.
  • In Batman, The Joker gained diplomatic immunity once by being appointed as an ambassador to the United Nations. (He was initially said to be representing Iran, but that was apparently deemed implausible beyond the bounds of bad taste -- it was retconned so that he represented the fictitious Qurac. Yes, that one.)
    • The writer (Jim Starlin) seems to have liked this trope; he used it earlier in "Ten Nights of the Beast" and "The Diplomat's Son." In the former, Batman ends up trapping the KGBeast and walking away, presumably to let him starve to death (well, until it was retconned), while in the latter it's suggested that Jason Todd shoved the diplomat's son off a high balcony.
  • In DC Comics' Crisis Crossover 52, Captain Marvel's enemy Black Adam killed a supervillain right in front of a news crew -by ripping him in half with his bare hands- but was not arrested presumably because he was standing over the embassy of the nation he ruled at the time.
  • Once, after defeating Maxima in battle yet again, Superman cites this as a reason for the police to withdraw. The other reason is that the Queen of Almerac is just as powerful as him, so the police wouldn't have been able to hold her anyway.
  • In Joss Whedon's first Astonishing X Men run, after the X-Men(mostly the newly-resurrected Colossus) put the beat-down on the alien conquerer Ord, Nick Fury and a squad of SHIELD agents show up with heavy ordnance, claiming that Ord has diplomatic immunity. As Wolverine replied in the next issue, "Diplomatic #%@* &%!!@#$@%#%$##@@#$$%$#@# $$#%$#@#$%#%@$#$@$&&&%&@&$#%$##%&&&@&!! immunity?"
  • Deconstructed in Green Lantern Corps. A prince of a planet kills a Green Lantern and many potential replacements. When the other Lanterns bring him to Oa, they are forced to return him to his family. He is then tried and guillotined by them, with Soranik Natu giving him a Hope Spot just to be cruel.


Film

  • In Lethal Weapon 2, one character claims diplomatic immunity to make the heroes back off. (Although in fact, he was only a consular officer, and they get a lower grade of immunity - unless he had some other official status as well, he could have been searched provided proper procedures were followed.) Besides, when you're trying to kill a police officer in front of another police officer while surrounded with evidence that you're a drug dealer and smuggler, one thinks diplomatic immunity no longer applies. And as the page quote testifies, Murtaugh agreed with that assessment of the situation.
  • Sneakers. When Marty is about to be captured by the FBI, his friend Gregor (a KGB agent) offers him asylum inside his car, which he says is technically part of the Russian consulate (and thus under diplomatic immunity).
  • Ghost in the Shell (1995). At the beginning of the movie the ambassador of a foreign country claims diplomatic immunity while offering asylum to a Japanese defector. The Major executes the ambassador with a bloody head shot, "ending" the problem.
  • In Casino Royale, James Bond gets in trouble for paying absolutely no attention to the extraterritoriality of an embassy in Africa. ("You violated the only absolutely inviolate rule of international relations, and for what?")
  • In The Princess Diaries, the Queen claimed diplomatic immunity after she and Mia got in a car accident. Then she got Mia out of trouble by giving the traffic cops the nonexistent "Genovian Order of the Rose."
    • Earlier, Joe turned down Mia's request to take the Genovian flags off the limo he was driving, on the grounds that they allow him to park anywhere.
  • Three Hundred - Subverted. Because that was Sparta.
    • The Other Wiki gives the real life version of what happened as a reason why diplomatic immunity exists in the first place.
  • In U.S. Marshals, a Chinese 'diplomat' claims immunity after shooting an FBI agent in the head with a sniper rifle.
  • The embassy part is subverted in The Bourne Identity, when Bourne escapes into the US embassy just ahead of the pursuing local authorities, but soon finds himself being chased by the Marine embassy guards because he's wanted by the US government as well.
  • In Once Upon a Time in China 2, the British Ambassador refuses to allow General Nap-lan to arrest Sun Yat Sen in their embassy, stating that the Embassy was British soil, and as such they could legally grant the man asylum (Since he was busy treating people injured in a terrorist attack at the time the attempted arrest was made, the ambassador had every reason to not want the Chinese government to drag the man away at that moment). The next time said official enters the embassy, he murders the ambassador on the spot, claiming "This is China, not England!". In this case the ambassador is not abusing his powers, but the Chinese government refuses to acknowledge them.
  • Outrage by Takeshi Kitano. The Yakuza use an embassy to run a illegal casino. They actually force the ambassador to move to a new building because the old one wasn't large enough.


Literature

  • Discworld: In The Fifth Elephant, Vimes and his party have diplomatic immunity when visiting Uberwald. His willingness to assert that immunity in the face of people with sharp weapons is used by a local power to test his resolve. (It doesn't prevent him from being arrested when he later breaks a law that may be silly from our point of view but is very important in Dwarf culture.)
  • One of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga books is actually called Diplomatic Immunity. There's a double meaning in there, too.
    • In addition, Miles and Mark both have real, and apparently legally effective (though details are unclear), diplomatic immunity, being the sons of the Prime Minister of Barrayar (formerly Regent, later Viceroy of Sergyar), who is also a Count in his own right (and therefore a minor head of state) as well as the arguable successor to the Emperor. Miles uses a combination of his immunity and Barrayar's fealty laws to help someone out in The Warrior's Apprentice, while Mark is protected from potential arrest and extradition in A Civil Campaign (To a point - foreign governments can legally arrest him for murder, should he commit one). Miles also presumably has immunity in his own right once he's appointed Imperial Auditor, being, effectively, hatchet man for the Emperor with full Imperial authority.
    • Also, in A Civil Campaign, we learn that statements such as "I want to arrest a Vorkosigan" have the effect of producing "the most damn-all stone wall obtuseness from every Barrayaran clerk, secretary, embassy officer and bureaucrat."
    • And that a Count's official residence in the capital is effectively his district's embassy, adding another layer of legal complications to anyone trying to do something to key retainers of a Count.
  • In Anne McCaffrey's novel Pegasus in Flight, the villain is part of an ambassador's family, and claims diplomatic immunity when the police try to arrest him. The ambassador, on hearing what he's been up to (child trafficking), chews him out and then tells the police to go ahead and arrest him.
  • In Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small series, the Jerkass squire Joren of Stone Mountain takes full advantage of the legal privileges of nobility and confesses in court to having paid two thugs to kidnap Keladry's maid Lalasa, have her tied up and left at the top of the Needle, a thin tower(with no safety railings). The Magistrate is quite pissed and lays every single fine he can think of, which is enough to bankrupt a regular family. Joren however is filthy rich even by the standards of nobility and he knows that since he didn't perform the physical crime and the victim is a commoner he can't be jailed.
  • In The Da Vinci Code, the main character is told to flee the Parisian police by fleeing to the US embassy so he can have a chance of a fair trial, rather than being the scapegoat for the museum curator's murder. (Although it's not much of a spoiler.)
  • In the Nero Wolfe short story "Immune to Murder" (also one of the episodes in the TV series) the murderer is this. I'd put that behind a spoiler but c'mon. Rex Stout's own title gives it away the second you get to the murder.
  • A short story by Robert Sheckley is called "Diplomatic Immunity". It takes the concept rather more literal than usual.
  • In the Alex Cross novel Pop Goes the Weasel, the villain is a British diplomat (and ex-Special Forces assassin). Although his government eventually waives the immunity and allows him to be put on trial, his assertion of the immunity during his arrest leads to the most daming evidence being suppressed, and he is acquitted.
  • Invoked in Lord of the Rings, when the Mouth of Sauron comes to bring Frodo's vest to Gandalf. He explicitly states that "I am an herald and ambassador and may not be assailed!" when he feels that the atmosphere is getting a bit hostile. Gandalf pointedly informs him that where such laws hold true it's customary to behave more politely, which does lead to him dialling back the insults a bit. Of course, in The Film of the Book, the Mouth does not assert this, and Aragorn promptly lops the guy's head off when he's said his piece.
  • Pops up in a Hoka story aptly named Undiplomatic Immunity. Yes, the Hokas are ambassadors. No, they are not allowed to wiretap the Plenipotentiary's quarters. And put that codebook away, for the last time, there is no Section X!
  • Spies operating under diplomatic cover appear regularly in the Tom Clancy novels. Those spies who don't have a diplomatic cover tend to forward their information to those who do, who can then transport that information back to their home country in a diplomatic bag (which cannot be searched by customs agents).
    • In the Jack Ryan universe, there's actually only two books that has the good-guy spies operating under official cover (The Cardinal of the Kremlin and Red Rabbit, and in both cases it's the same characters). In all the other books, while official spies do occasionally show up on the bad-guy side, the good guys are always operating under a non-official cover, and the books tend to go to great lengths to show a) how hard their life is, and b) how much easier it would be if they could just go to their embassy sometimes, and not have to worry about getting arrested and killed.
  • Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels: The first book Weekend Warriors plays this straight by having Myra's daughter Barbara killed by a drunk hit-and-run driver who could not be charged due to him having diplomatic immunity. The book Vendetta reveals the driver's name to be John Chai, the son of the Chinese ambassador to the USA Chai Ming. John is apparently quite the playboy and his father tries to keep him penned in to protect the family's honour and reputation. Apparently, John has not gone back to the USA because he knows that he will be arrested and charged for his crime. The Vigilantes had to sneak into China, get John to go somewhere away from security, kidnap him, skin him alive, drop him off to England for treatment and then dump him back in China. Does anyone find it strange that China is portrayed as a country that is more than willing to play with fire by not revoking the son's immunity and having him punished for his crime?
  • Invoked in The Supernaturalist. Stephen is on the verge of getting arrested by the local authorities and claims to have diplomatic immunity. The officers don't buy it and demand to "see some diplomatic identification", at which point Stephen throws them a blank plastic card. The whole thing was just a diversion to slow the officers down while his team took them out. It also creates a small amount of confusion for them since the near future setting has it that diplomatic immunity is largely obsolete, and the relevence of asserting it is vaguely defined.


Live Action TV

  • In Yes Prime Minister, the French plan use diplomatic immunity and embassy extraterritoriality to smuggle a dog, intended as a presidential gift for the Queen, into Britain - part of a scheme to embarrass the British with the help of quarantine regulations (and thus gain the upper hand in Channel Tunnel negotiations). This sneakiness ends up backfiring on them; having been denied the right to have their own police guard their diplomats, they've smuggled in explosives to try and embarrass the British police as well -- unfortunately for them, they get caught, and the British police are allowed to arrest them for that.
  • In the "Exposed" episode of Smallville, Chloe and Lois investigate a case in which girls working at a Metropolis strip joint are disappearing. When the killer is finally exposed, the Metropolis PD cannot arrest him because of this trope. It's subverted near the end when Chloe tips off INTERPOL and they arrest him.
  • In an episode of The Commish, "Sleep of the Just", the rapist was a diplomat. At one stage the police decide to harass him by ticketting for obscure and long-obsolete violations of the law, like sneezing in public (it frightens the horses).
  • This has shown up at least once each on Law and Order and Law and Order Special Victims Unit. In both cases, it eventually failed, but it did serve as a significant roadblock.
    • In one episode of L&O, a diplomat who refused to turn over records to the D.A.'s Office had his car towed. He protested that he had immunity from all parking fines. Jamie Ross argued that while that may be true, they could tow his car for illegal parking at every occurrence, and would until he cooperated. Presumably giving up the evidence was less hassle than finding a legal parking spot.
    • Another time a defendant who was employed by the Nigerian Embassy, and thus enjoyed diplomatic immunity, tried to use it to get out of his involvement in a drug smuggling ring. Instead, his Embassy not only revoked it, but then shipped him back to Nigeria where the penalties for drug crime are even tougher and his conviction is all-but-assured thanks to the evidence the US prosecutors had on him.
    • In the SVU episode "Honor," a woman has been found dead, and it became clear that it was an honor-killing committed by her Knight Templar Big Brother. Problem is, their dad's a big-time political figure, so his entire family has diplomatic immunity. The caveat is that the brother's immunity expired on his 21st birthday. Unfortunately, this whole mess results in the diplomat's wife, who finally stood up to him and testified against her son, also getting killed by her husband...and the NYPD can't touch him.
  • CSI: Miami had a Victim of the Week who was killed by the sons of an ambassador (who had also been using his immunity to smuggle blood diamonds to prove he was evil). They trap one of them in international waters by some ludicrously overcomplicated scheme. The ambassador retracts immunity from the other when the CSIs discover he isn't the diplomat's biological son.
  • In one episode of Barney Miller the diplomat in question had a slave.
  • One episode of Nash Bridges showed Nash and Joe taking a surprisingly logical approach to a criminal British diplomat. They called the Home Office in London, presented their evidence, and got the man fired. Not immune to anything then.
  • In an episode of MacGyver, a murderer and jewel thief has diplomatic immunity as a cultural attaché. Mac and his team prove said attaché's criminality to the ambassador, who insists the attaché be returned to their home country to stand trial. The attaché pleads unsuccessfully to be allowed to face American justice instead.
  • An arc spanning the last three episodes of Season 3 of The West Wing uses this as a central plot device: A foreign country's defense minister is discovered using his Diplomatic Impunity to be a terrorism kingpin on the side. Since his own government cannot be relied on to prosecute him, President Bartlet and his advisors consider illegally assassinating him. They don't just consider it, they do it, and the consequences are felt for two straight seasons.
    • The trope is used more humorously in a different episode, when the UN Secretary-General tries to get ahold of the President all day, and Charlie (per Leo's orders) tries to keep Bartlet from getting involved. The reason? The Secretary-General's upset because diplomats are being given parking tickets and having their vehicles towed for parking in no-parking zones. When Bartlet finally hears about it, he flips out:

 Bartlet: [stabs button on phone] THERE ARE BIG SIGNS, YOU CAN'T PARK THERE! They should get towed! I hope they get towed to Queens, and the Triborough is closed, and there's a big craft show at Shea, a flea market or a tractor show! [hangs up]

[beat]

Charlie: Well, that was probably his secretary.

Bartlet: Damn it!

Charlie: You can bet she'll be parking it in a garage, though.

  • In one episode of Bones, the murderer is covered by diplomatic immunity. The lab crew comes up with a scheme to get around it, but Booth shuts them down, on the grounds that the standard of diplomatic immunity is too important to be damaged. It's then subverted by the fact that the immunity only applies to foreign prosecution - they can still hand the evidence over to the murderer's own government and let them try the case.
    • Unfortunately for the diplomat in question, individuals don't have the authority to waive their own immunity short of defecting.
    • In addition, Booth's original plan to have the diplomat's son declared persona non grata wouldn't have let him prosecute, either -- at best it would have gotten him recalled to his home country.
  • In the pilot for Nurse Jackie, Jackie treats a diplomat who had his ear severed while attacking a prostitute. He couldn't be charged, so Jackie flushed the ear down a toilet.
  • An episode of The Bill went into this in detail, with an "Eastern European" (possibly Ruritanian) diplomat resisting arrest for assaulting a prostitute. The police discovered steadily more heinous crimes that the diplomat was involved in, such that the embassy was forced to hand him over for prosecution; and as usual they found the body of a murdered prostitute in his back garden seconds before he was due to leave for the airport, having been dismissed from the service for the original assault. At the climax of the episode, the officer involved on the case was promoted to deal with the Foreign and Commonwealth office in matters such as this.
  • Has popped up at least twice in Castle:
    • Played fairly straight in "The Fifth Bullet", wherein one of the persons of interest in a murder investigation is a UN diplomat from Bahrain who although not actually involved in anything strictly illegal, having been knowingly purchasing forged copies of various paintings is uncooperative. He's about to pull the 'I'm leaving the country and you'll never see me again' trick when Beckett arrests his driver for double-parking, when enables her to both detain him and search his car (which is from a car service, not a diplomatic service, and as such isn't covered under the immunity).
    • Subverted in "Suicide Squeeze", which involves the Cuban consulate in New York. A murder suspect tries hiding out there, but Beckett bluntly informs the head guy that a consulate is not an embassy and as such isn't covered by immunity in these situations; unless she's turned over, there's nothing stopping the police from entering the consulate legally as they would any other similar situation. Since holding her wouldn't reflect well on the Cuban government, she's turned over.
      • This, however, is incorrect, as consulates are just as inviolable as embassies so they really couldn't have done anything about it.
  • An episode of CHiPs had the CHP faced with the son of a diplomat who routinely sped/drove recklessly knowing that he couldn't be arrested for it. They eventually get him to stop by taking him to view the wreckage of a high-speed car accident that killed a young child.
  • An episode of Las Vegas plays it utterly straight when a Syrian diplomat steals a 90 million dollar Egyptian mummy that was on display at the Montecito casino. When Ed shows up trying to stop the guy before he boards his private plane the cops just let him go on with his business by citing his personal immunity, in spite of the fact that letting a foreigner steal a national treasure would undoubtedly lead to an international incident with Egypt (which unlike Syria, has been a major US ally since 1989). However, the guy who stole the treasure was a selfish dick who simply did not give a crap who wanted it for his private collection, Deline didn't have any legally obtained, actionable evidence of the crime, and Team Montecito had already stolen it back.
  • White Collar, "What Happens in Burma": The Burmese embassy not only commits parking violations with reckless abandon, they steal a hard drive containing video footage of a rebel camp and try to smuggle it back to Burma in a diplomatic pouch. However, Peter turns the letter of the law against them by using the unpaid parking tickets to stall the ambassador at a crucial moment, enabling the FBI to (more or less legally) retrieve the hard drive when the ambassador's secretary is tricked into dumping out the pouch.
  • Sue Thomas FB Eye: In "Diplomatic Immunity," a crooked Sudanese diplomat uses his status to hide his role in slave trafficking. Diplomatic immunity even goes so far as to protect him from legal consequences when three FBI agents (among other people on the street) see him beating a woman in broad daylight and Bobby pulls him off the woman. The diplomat gets away with it, and the State Department makes Bobby apologize for the "misunderstanding."
  • Psych: While investigating a murder that took place at a British embassy, Shawn thinks that he can use diplomatic immunity to get away with anything (mostly parking violations and littering), but finds out that it doesn't work that way. The Lethal Weapon 2 example is specifically mentioned.
  • Forever Knight had a diplomat protecting his son by dumping the kid's victims for him. There was worry that Nick, who kept pressing things, would get himself in trouble and into a possible sunrise execution, not good for a vampire. But the son lost his own immunity when they found he was employed under false pretenses at the consulate.
  • Highlander had an immortal whose girlfriend was killed by the son of a diplomat friend of Duncan's. The immortal wanted justice,and ultimately killed the father thinking he did it. The son couldn't be prosecuted due to his immunity, and despite Duncan's attempts to get the kid to turn himself in voluntarily, the kid refused. Duncan did protect him by telling the other immortal that he'd keep his head as long as the kid stayed alive.
  • Highlander: The Raven: a spy is unable to be arrested because she is a diplomat. However, the US government liasion says that she is returning to an ex-Iron Curtain nation in failure and will certainly face the firing squad. By failing to steal the blueprints, getting exposed, and spending 5 million dollars for bribe money; she has nothing to bargain with and her superiors will use her as an example during her Kangaroo Court.
  • A suspect in a murder is a diplomat in the NCIS episode "Untouchable".
  • Some retired veterans go up against drug dealers covered by diplomatic immunity in the JAG episode "Yesterday's Heroes".
  • In Cagney and Lacey, a close friend of a diplomat committed a hit-and-run on a guy, and ran to the mission. Cagney & Lacey have a warrant for his arrest, but even though he doesn't have immunity, since he is within the diplomatic mission, the Charge dAffairs informs them that they are within their rights to refuse. He reminds them how their own country was horribly upset when the government of Iran didn't respect the sovereignity of their embassy in Teheran. He sneaks out of the mission once (which means he's now fair game) and they almost catch him, but he's able to sneak back in. The two discover that to get rid of a diplomatic incident the United States is going to waive prosecution on the guy. Before he finds out, the two go see him on the mission grounds and make a deal with him: if he'll pay the guy's medical expenses and lost wages, and make a donation to a charity, they'll not prosecute. (The interesting thing is that it was just an accident, if he hadn't panicked and ran, that's probably all that would have happened, his insurance would have had to pay the costs.)
  • Subverted on an episode of Matlock. A stuffy British diplomat gets framed for murder with the real killer counting on him to invoke this trope and flee the country. The subversion comes when the diplomat instead decides to waive his immunity and fight the charges. (because he really was innocent) And then hires Matlock.
  • In an early episode of Blue Bloods Danny tries to nail the son on an Argentinian diplomat for a series of rapes who was smugly sure he could get away with it because he was protected by his father's immunity. But then a DNA report identified the son as the perp in a rape that occurred in Argentina. Frank then gives the father a choice, either wave his sons immunity and let him face American justice or send him back to face a harsher punishment in his home country. The father chose the former.
    • In another episode Danny has to deal with a Turkish diplomat accused of being physically abusive toward his wife and son but couldn't arrest him due to his immunity. But at the end the wife takes matters into her own hands and shoots her husband dead right in front of Danny and then claims her own immunity thus preventing Danny from doing anything but admonish her. Danny: "You shoulda just took a baseball bat to him."


Radio

  • In an episode of The Goon Show ("The Case of the Missing CD Plates"), the steamroller which runs down Neddie Seagoon has CD (Corps Diplomatique) plates, preventing him from suing for injury. He is then tricked into screwing CD plates onto a piano that struck him on the head, so that the villains who dropped it on him can claim diplomatic immunity.


Newspaper Comics

  • In Dilbert, Dogbert gets diplomatic immunity at one point - and of course, abuses it for the sake of amusement.
    • He abuses it to the point where he uses his diplomatic immunity to boot the president of Elbonia and take his place.


Video Games

  • Boss Cass in Ty The Tasmanian Tiger 2 uses this to kidnap random people in order to build his grand army.
  • Ace Attorney Investigations has Ambassador Quercus Alba, the head of an international smuggling ring. This trope has a GIANT impact, considering that you have to prove people guilty with nothing BUT the law. After many rounds of accusations[1], Edgeworth eventually gets him when an Interpol agent gets his home country to remove him from his position as ambassador (complete with a Lethal Weapon Shout-Out) and Edgey proves that he committed murder on Japanese/U.S. territory.
  • There is a cheat in Red Dead Redemption actually called "Diplomatic Immunity" that allows you to do whatever you want without consequences. Considering that this was made by Rockstar Games, you can imagine how that goes.
  • Poppy The Iron Ambassador from League of Legends has an ability called "Diplomatic Immunity", only the target of which can damage or use abilities on her for the duration; making the "Immunity" part literal.
  • In Mass Effect 3's Show Within a Show, Blasto 6: Partners in Crime. The vorcha ambassador repeatedly claims that Blasto can't touch him because of diplomatic immunity. However, Blasto doesn't believe that diplomatic immunity applies if he ignites a flammable surface that ambassador is standing on.


Webcomics

  • Sam Starfall from Freefall once did this to excuse his crimes but gave it up after they hired other diplomats to beat him up.
  • Arikos from Last Res0rt used this in his Backstory to get out of masterminding a cult he'd been keeping up for years, including trying to cover up said cult with a mass suicide. He eventually ended up on the show regardless, but that he's not dead already is a testament to the power wielded here.
  • Axel from Ansem Retort kills a random passer-by right after being told he has diplomatic immunity. Subverted when Namine lectures him for immediately abusing it; Axel hadn't even heard, he just wanted to kill someone.


Western Animation

  • There's the Simpsons episode where they go to Australia and end up having to seek refuge in the American embassy.

 Homer: *hopping on and off the embassy grounds* Now I'm in Australia! Now I'm in America! Australia! Amer...

Guard: *punches him in the face* Here in America we don't tolerate that crap, sir!

  • Fillmore had a Canadian diplomat's son take advantage of his diplomatic immunity to circulate forged baseball cards.
  • In the Family Guy episode "E. Peterbus Unum", Peter considers himself to enjoy diplomatic immunity as a result of declaring his house an independent country.

  "Just like the bad guy in Lethal Weapon 2/I've got diplomatic immunity, so Hammer you can't sue. Can't touch me."

  • Robot Chicken included a gag with the superhero Tablescrapper interrupting the meeting of the "Council of Evil Tables". His rival, a South African table, had a paper for Diplomatic Impunity lying on it.
  • Big Bad Van Kleiss on Generator Rex tries to pull this in episode 7. It doesn't stick.
  • One episode of Dilbert involves a trip to Elbonia, where Dogbert has become a diplomat. He first uses it to get a cop to tear up a parking ticket, then eat it. Then he gets the cop's gun and clothes and orders him to dance while shooting at his feet. This is just the first thing he does with it.
  • In Young Justice Count Vertigo has this as a member of the Vlatavan royal family. He loses this in his second appearance, however, when he turns into The Evil Prince to his niece, Queen Perdita.
  • In Gi Joe A Real American Hero, the Joes interrupt a munitions sales presentation by Destro for several foreign dignitaries. The Joes try to arrest the dignitaries, but they cheerfully whip out their diplomatic credentials and the Joes have to concentrate on chasing Destro instead.


Real Life

  • There have, of course, been genuine examples of diplomatic immunity being abused. There have also, though, been plenty of examples where diplomatic immunity failed to protect a criminal, such as:
    • When the diplomat's country agrees to waive diplomatic immunity, or when diplomats are prosecuted for the crimes in question under their own country's laws. (For most countries, after all, being seen to shelter an obvious criminal is generally bad policy. Even if they don't actually care about the crime, they may still throw the offender to the wolves for the sake of public relations.)
    • When the host country declares the offending diplomat persona non grata, essentially tossing them out of the country on their ear. This is seldom used, since it's generally considered a pretty serious insult to the diplomat's home country. It's usually reserved for spies, although the United States threw out the Venezuelan consul in Miami in 2012 for having suggested that her government organize a cyberattack on the US.
    • When your name is Manuel Noriega. The US Army invades your country partly to enforce DEA charges but mostly because you're too close to the USSR, removes you from power and plays loud rock music outside the Vatican embassy you've hidden in.
  • Parking and traffic violations are less serious (but probably more common) complaints:
    • There's a long-standing complaint from the London government about diplomats not paying the congestion charge. The diplomats argue it's a tax, which they don't have to pay under the Vienna Convention. The Mayor's office disagrees.
    • There are stories about UN officials racking up huge parking fines in New York City, only to refuse to pay them because of "diplomatic immunity." It was referenced in an episode of The West Wing.
    • The diplomats in Washington DC are notorious for reckless driving, to the point where other drivers are advised to avoid getting behind cars with diplomatic plates.
    • The tendency of a nation's diplomats to accumulate unpaid parking fines is correlated with the level of corruption in their home countries. This was the subject of an article in the Economist, with the original formal paper here. The list of nations by unpaid parking fines is on page 20: Kuwait is in the lead with 246.2 per diplomat per year. Race is not mentioned in the article, nor is it implied anywhere.
    • Similarly, while diplomats are - in theory - subject to the television license just like anyone else in the UK, in practice they can simply refuse to pay. This is common enough that the TV Licensing centre handbook has a section dedicated to explaining what to do if a pissed-off diplomat phones up.
  • Most countries use their embassy a safe house for espionage against the host country and/or other countries with interests there. This is so common an "abuse" of diplomatic immunity as to be paradoxically accepted as part of the rules of the game. It only becomes an issue when something unusually awkward happens.
    • Realistically, most "agents" are just people asked by their country's intelligence agencies to keep their ears open and write memos if they overhear anything relevant to national security or stumble across somebody who might be turned into an intelligence asset. Intelligence communities know their own people are the biggest problem.
    • Although less common since the end of the Cold War, a similar trick was to seek refuge in a neutral embassy of a country that the host country doesn't want to offend and who the spy's own country is too important to for said spy to be booted out. Americans and Soviets each had different preferences, obviously. Popular choices nowadays are Switzerland, Austria, Vatican (mostly in South America where no leader wants to be seen attacking the church), and occasionally tiny European countries and principalities like Luxembourg and Malta.
    • The Iranian takeover of the U.S. embassy and holding the diplomats hostage in 1979 was considered a no-no (and was a complete violation of international law). Iranian claims that the CIA used the embassy as a haven for spies (true) and everyone there was a spy (not exactly far off the mark) was generally met with answer, "Well, of course the CIA used the embassy. Everyone uses their embassy for spying reasons. That's normal and acceptable". Of course, considering the United States history in Iran, one can understand why the embassy and its staff were not popular.
      • In fact, many American diplomats who were not in the embassy at the time of the takeover sought refuge in the Canadian embassy, who the Iranians didn't have as much of a problem with. Those diplomats were later smuggled out of the country with fake Canadian credentials.
    • In the time of Ancient Greece, diplomatic immunity was thought a sacred law instituted by the gods. When Persian emissaries came to Sparta and Athens, they received somewhat rude treatment, as is well known from a certain movie. It was madness, but that was Sparta. That was Athens, too.
      • However, when bad weather started to strike, the authorities in Sparta decided that the gods must be displeased, and so sent two volunteers to the King of Persia's court to be executed, as an apology. The Great King refused, and the weather cleared. In those days, diplomatic immunity was Serious Business.
    • One Saudi Prince sexually harassed a woman at a hotel on visiting New York. He returned unscathed. However, it is said that his father, Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud himself, personally beat him black and blue with his own hands for shaming his family.
  • In the ancient Muslim world, treating messengers well was sacred business. Further, the Mongolian empire took it very seriously, and were known to burn cities to the ground if their messengers were mistreated.
    • And if you murder their messengers, they will wipe entire empires off the face of the Earth in retribution. So yeah, the well-being of Mongolian messengers was Serious Business.
  • The Raymond Davis incident. Davis shot two men in Pakistan, and his backup accidentally ran over and injured several people, killing one. There was some dispute regarding Davis' diplomatic status between the US and Pakistan.The man was arrested and charged with murder, but US pressure eventually caused the Pakistan Government to find an arcane loophole in the law and release him. Six months later, the man allegedly gets into a fight and wounds somebody--over a parking spot--in the US.

Notes

  1. "I can prove you committed a crime!" "Diplomatic immunity." "But...okay, but here's more proof!" "Still immune." "Er...well, here's proof you conspired with someone who DID commit a crime in this country!" "Still got immunity."
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