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In the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, diplomatic immunity entering ‘dangerous new territory’

When a wretched old man decided to chase down and impose himself on a hotel’s chambermaid, International Monetary Fund’s credibility rapidly fell with resounding force.

Not to say that IMF was an entirely credible institution to begin with. The IMF and the World Bank have a history of imposition. No matter their intentions, the IMF-backed Washington Consensus and Post-Washington Consensus of the ‘90s called for a cure-all package of market liberalism and privatization. More failure than success, the consensus was replaced with the structural adjustment programs that sought to rectify some glaring generalized approaches of the Washington Consensus.

These policies were, at best, marginally successful. The problem with the policies was not necessarily in the methods they proposed: It was in the adamant assurance of these international institutions that they would all work.

Thus, the over-confident, overpowered establishment of the IMF essentially forced vulnerable developing countries into further economic downfall. How fitting a metaphor then that the Western head of the IMF chose to abuse the West African immigrant chambermaid sent to clean his suite.

Maybe it’s too soon to declare that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is guilty since, in his resignation statement, he said, “To all, I want to say that I deny with the greatest possible firmness all of the allegations that have been made against me.”

But taking an educated guess, a 62-year-old man would hardly constitute as appealing in the mind of a 32-year-old woman.

Strauss-Kahn’s claim that it was consensual is laughable. However, this type of plea when professed by a diplomat has habitually resulted in favorable outcomes for the diplomatic defendant.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 purposed to grant diplomats a degree of political immunity. In essence, a regulation so the receiving countries of diplomats “don’t shoot the messenger.” The American Civil Liberties Union says, “the most accepted justification (for diplomatic immunity) is that diplomatic immunity is a functional necessity and that it would be impossible for diplomats to fulfill their duties without such privileges.”

Yet, this diplomatic immunity has since ballooned into a broad-based bulge of non-liability. Some violations, such as illegal parking, are irksome but harmless. But when diplomats extend their liberty to employment abuse, sexual harassment and exploitation, diplomatic protection has entered a drastic and dangerous new territory.

In a Reuters article, Mark Lagon, the former head of the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, said, “In short, diplomatic immunity means diplomatic impunity.” The U.S. Government Accountability Office in a 2008 report found 42 or more domestic workers “were abused by foreign diplomats with immunity from 2000 through 2008.”

Diplomats have traditionally gotten away with abuse, though now there may be a turn for the better. In the case Sabbithi, et al. v. Al Saleh, et al., a Kuwaiti diplomat, Major Waleed Al Saleh and his wife were accused of trafficking three Indian women and forcing them to work as domestic help under conditions of constant abuse. The ACLU is now helping the women win their case.

According to Reuters, “the IMF said its immunity provisions are not applicable in Strauss-Kahn’s case because he was visiting New York on personal business.”

On Thursday he was granted bail, paying $1 million for the privilege, and is under house arrest with 24-hour watch in New York. This is a positive indication that diplomatic impunity is shrinking. After all, diplomats, representatives of foreign cooperation and amity, practicing legal evasion and having malignant character is far too grimly ironic to be reality.


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