In the 2008, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report entitled “U.S. Government’s Efforts to Address Alleged Abuse of Household Workers by Foreign Diplomats with Immunity Could Be Strengthened.” Within this report, the GAO disclosed that “we identified 42 distinct A-3 and G-5 visa holders who alleged that they were abused by foreign diplomas with some level of immunity from 2000 through 2008, but the total number of alleged incidents is likely higher.”
If this is true, then why would the United States continue to protect the immunities that allow diplomatic agents to abuse their domestic workers? The answer to this question stems from the three ways that diplomatic immunity allows the United States to conduct domestic and foreign policy.
First, diplomatic immunity provides an opportunity to demonstrate bipartisanship in the House and Senate. For example, following the enactment of the Diplomatic Relations Act of 1978 (DRA), Jimmy Carter released the following statement:
“I am pleased, because its enactment is a reflection of what Congress can accomplish when skillful and dedicated leaders of both Houses work closely together in a common cause, with full cooperation and participation from the executive branch- in this instance, especially from the State and Justice Departments.”
The agreement of both parties on the issue of diplomatic immunity showed their capability to cooperate, clearly something the American people wanted to see. Thus, consensus on diplomatic immunity could serve as a distraction from other issues that sharply divide the House and Senate. However, if the House and Senate could focus on the victims of human trafficking in these diplomatic households, they could successfully demonstrate the same level of bipartisanship whilst holding diplomats legally accountable for their treatment of their workers.
Second, the protection of diplomatic immunity could translate into the preservation of diplomatic relations between the United States and other nations. For this reason, the GAO reveals that “if the foreign diplomat’s country is a close ally of the United States, State also will assess how relations with that country might be affected by use of the investigative technique.” For this reason, the strip search and subsequent arrest of Indian consular official Devyani Khobragade for the abuse of her domestic worker sparked tension between the United States and India.
Nevertheless, the United States could utilize this attention to foreign relations to send a clear signal that the protection of basic human rights supersede protection of individuals that violate these rights. Despite the claim that U.S and Indian diplomatic relations suffered due to the Khobragade case, Desai of the Huffington Post asserts that “compared to the big issues — stalling of the implementation of the civil nuclear energy deal, complications of the retail sector reforms, and strains in naval cooperation between the two countries — the Khobragade episode is just a small pebble of irritation.”
The third use of diplomatic immunity, the principle of reciprocity, makes the necessity of diplomatic immunity harder to dispute. Section 4 of the DRA allows the President to broaden or limit immunities of foreign diplomats in the United States pending on their sending State’s treatment of U.S diplomats abroad. Thus, the United States government feels that without protecting diplomatic officials within its territory, U.S. diplomats abroad will become vulnerable to lowered protection standards.
This defense of the existence of diplomatic immunity fails to take into account the victims of abuse. Protected by immunities, diplomats are able to take advantage of their domestic workers without legal repercussions. There must be a balance between protecting the rights of diplomats and the basic human rights of their
The utility of diplomatic immunity as a tool of foreign policy should not undermine the consequences of holding diplomats unaccountable for the treatment of their domestic workers.