THE TELEGRAPH – The most borrowed new book at the United Nations’ headquarters library last year was a curious title: Immunity of Heads of State and State Officials for International Crimes. Some wondered why UN staff were suddenly so interested in a tome examining how diplomats can avoid criminal charges abroad. But I can’t say it came as much of a surprise to me.
I’ve noted with serious concern over recent years the disturbing trend of diplomats using their privileges of immunity to avoid justice. The world needs to wake up to the true extent of this scandal, especially when you consider there are around 20,000 diplomats currently entitled to immunity from the UK courts alone.
Citing the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations – originally introduced in 1961 to protect ambassadors and heads of state from the perils of working in hostile environments – diplomats have been regularly evading justice in both civil matters and criminal cases, ranging from parking fines to the possession of fire arms. It has become such a problem in the UK that Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was last year moved to reveal how diplomats serving in Britain had racked up more than £87 million in unpaid congestion charges since 2003.
If any further evidence were needed of the farcical use and abuse of immunity, it came last week at the High Court in London, where Saudi diplomat Walid Juffali was attempting to halt a claim by his ex-wife for a legally binding settlement and a share of his £4bn fortune.
As St Lucia’s Permanent Representative to the UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO), Mr Juffali asserts that he has full protection from the British justice system – a right he is apparently only too happy to exercise in a bid to protect his wealth, following the breakdown of his 13-year marriage to former supermodel Christina Estrada. Mr Juffali has not attended a single meeting of the London-based IMO since his appointment, holds no qualifications in shipping or maritime law, and has no obvious connection to St Lucia.