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Is Zimbabwe First Lady Grace Mugabe really off the hook from South African prosecution?

This right never lapses in the case of serious offences such as murder, rape, robbery with aggravated circumstances, and the atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It’s conceivable that a person who once enjoyed diplomatic immunity, but who no longer benefits from it, will face justice at some future date.

This assumes that they find themselves back in the country in which the alleged crime took place.

It would be hard to justify continued immunity for someone accused of a crime given that criminal conduct, including assault, is not normally associated with official business between two sovereign states.

That’s not to say that the victim can easily get justice.

Diplomatic immunity conferred on visiting envoys and representatives means immunity from prosecution and civil action.

This means that a victim will be frustrated in their quest for justice in the courts.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Taking into account the rules around the prescription of the right to institute prosecution of crime, and the underlying rationale of diplomatic immunity as a tool to facilitate official political and commercial relations between sovereign states, it can be argued that diplomatic immunity isn’t the impenetrable shield of impunity imagined by some.

 

By  Gerhard Kemp- Professor of  Criminal and International Criminal Law- Stellenbosch University. This article first appeared on The Conversation.

 

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