How Foreign Diplomats Living in the U.S. Commit Crimes and Get Away With It

There are around 100,000 foreign diplomats, including their dependents, currently living in the United States, and some have broken local laws and faced zero consequences. That’s because under the Vienna Convention, ratified in 1961 by 187 countries, diplomats “shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention.” It’s essentially a “get out of jail free card” that protects them from criminal prosecution for everything from domestic abuse to money laundering. Between 1997 and 2002, United Nations diplomats living in New York City were cited for 150,000 parking tickets that went unpaid — more than 80 per day — racking up over $18 million in fines. Former Mayor Rudy Giulani tried to bully them into paying, but his words had little effect. In 2002, Mayor Mike Bloomberg initiated a “three strikes, you’re out” rule, towing diplomatic cars linked to parking violations and confiscating their distinctive red, white and blue plates. Three years later, parking violations by diplomats dropped 90%. It’s not just parking violations that run rampant among diplomats. There was the incident where Iranian diplomats shoplifted raincoats from a New York City department store, diplomats from Republic of Congo declined to pay rent for their Manhattan high-rise apartment and were $400,000 in arrears, and the wife of a diplomat committed involuntary manslaughter when she struck and killed a motorcyclist. All of these offenders were protected by diplomatic immunity. The public doesn’t approve of diplomatic immunity, with a recent survey revealing that 84% think immunity should be revoked. As we all know from American government, when people are above the law, they can do some very bad things.