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Can Grace Mugabe enjoy diplomatic immunity?

Here is what Africa check-afact checking organisation based in Johannesburg had to say. The spot check  was written before Zimbabwe’s First Lady advised police that  she wanted to invoke diplomatic immunity.

Zimbabwe’s First Lady has landed herself in hot South African water following the alleged assault of a young model.

Initial reports had it that Grace Mugabe handed herself over to police and was expected to appear in court on Tuesday afternoon. (Police later confirmed she had not done so.)

But in a radio interview that morning, the country’s police minister said that “if she came here with her diplomatic passport she can have diplomatic immunity”.

This led to confusion and indignation on social media.

“Did #gracemugabe come here to beat up people because she’s banking on diplomatic immunity?” tweeted one person.

We got the lowdown from an expert.

What is diplomatic immunity and under which circumstances does it apply to foreign citizens visiting or working in South Africa?

Prof Hennie Strydom, who holds the South African Research Chair in International Law at the University of Johannesburg, explained to Africa Check how it works.

“Diplomatic immunity refers to the protection and privileges extended to certain foreigners, such as members of diplomatic missions, consuls, ministers of foreign affairs and heads of state,” he said.

The South African government can also extend this protection to people on an ad hoc basis by publishing their names in the government gazette. It also applies to family members of diplomats and their personnel.

The immunity includes that people protected by it “shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state”, as set out by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Most countries in the world have ratified this convention, Strydom said.

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