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Ambassadors and Consuls

Diplomatic Immunity

The development of harmonious international relations and protection against arrest, harassment, or other unjustified actions taken against diplomatic representatives constitute the objectives of DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which became effective as part of the federal law in 1972, governs diplomatic immunity by granting various degrees of immunity from civil and criminal liability to the members of diplomatic missions.

Diplomatic Agents The supervisor of a mission, such as an ambassador, and members of the mission staff who possess diplomatic rank are DIPLOMATIC AGENTS. Such an agent is immune from criminal liability in the nation in which he or she serves, but the commission of a crime may result in a recall request to the ambassador's country. His or her expulsion may ensue upon the refusal of any such request.

In addition, a diplomatic agent is immune from civil lawsuits, except for actions involving estates, when he or she is the executor, administrator, or beneficiary; actions concerning real property held by the diplomatic agent for personal, not official functions; and actions relating to professional or business activities that are beyond the scope of diplomatic duties. A diplomatic agent is not required to testify as a witness; and the family members living in the agent's household enjoy the same immunities.

Due to the hardship imposed on the victims of motor vehicle accidents in the United States caused by foreign diplomats who have diplomatic immunity, federal law mandates that mission members and their families insure their personal motor vehicles, boats, and airplanes. If the mission has similar vehicles registered in its name, it also must purchase liability insurance. An action for damages for property loss, personal injuries, or WRONGFUL DEATH can be maintained directly against the diplomat's insurance company and is tried by the court, presiding without a jury.

Staff Members The administrative and technical staffs and families and household members of the mission are completely immune from criminal liability, but are immune from civil liability only for official acts. Similar rules apply to members of the service staff employed as domestics, but their families and private servants employed by staff members are not so protected against liability.

Consuls Consuls are not diplomatic agents and, therefore, they are usually amenable to civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution in the country

Pete Peterson, the first U.S. ambassador to Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam War, presents his diplomatic credentials to the vice president of Vietnam, Nguyen Thi Binh, in Hanoi on May 14, 1997.

try where they are assigned. Federal law, however, extends immunity to consuls from all suits and proceedings in state courts. This prevents any embarrassment to foreign nations that might ensue from such proceedings.

Other Exemptions Diplomatic agents in the United States and the members of their households are generally exempt from federal, state, and municipal taxes. They are responsible, however, for indirect taxes that are part of the price of goods, taxes on property inherited from a citizen, taxes on any real property they own privately, or capital gains taxes on profits from personal investments. Diplomatic agents have no obligation to serve in the U.S. armed forces. These exemptions also apply to the administrative and technical staffs of the mission and their families. The service staff and private servants are exempt from taxes on wages received from their employment with the mission or its members.

Additional topics

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