You’re listening to Episode 32 of the Trafficking Dispatch, a biweekly podcast that briefs you on human trafficking issues in a brief amount of time. I’m your host, Victoria Erdel. In this episode, we’ll learn more about diplomatic immunity and its potential loophole for human trafficking.
Welcome back everyone to the second episode of our fourth season! In the last episode, you heard from my sister, Anna, who gave you some exciting updates about the goals and initiatives we have planned for this season. I’d really encourage you to check the previous episode to learn how you can become more involved with The Trafficking Dispatch and even earn some cool prizes!
And in speaking of our podcast, I’d like to think that we’ve shown our listeners how human trafficking is more complex than many people realize. In episode 3 of our first season, we talked about why many victims of trafficking stay in their abusive situations. Often times, it’s not because they’re physically chained as many pictures on social media suggest, but because they have nowhere to go. But we don’t point out these complexities to overwhelm you. We do it because we believe that the more we understand human trafficking, the better we can fight it. Also, because it’s such a complex issue, we introduce our listeners to a particular sub-issue of human trafficking that they may want to fight. For example, one listener might be inspired to work with male survivors of human trafficking, while another listener may want to push big companies to have ethically sourced products.
Whatever your interest, we have another complexity to talk about in this episode. If you participated in our Instagram Story debates last season, you’ve already heard about this. If not, be prepared.
A lot of times, when we think of traffickers, we think of shady individuals like gang members or abusive parents -- people that intentionally hide from law enforcement. We assume that those who work in creating or enforcing the law must be innocent. But what if I told you that diplomats, royalty and other legally influential people have also been accused and charged with human trafficking? And what if I told you that they sometimes get away with it?
This is where diplomatic immunity and human trafficking intersect. But what is diplomatic immunity, and why was it created?
Diplomatic immunity is given to diplomats and sometimes their deputies and families. It makes the diplomat either partially or fully immune to the laws of their host country. This may sound outrageous at first. Why would we make anyone immune to the law? Well, the first assumption is that any diplomat should be a positive representative of their home country. Most countries would not appoint someone as a diplomat if they knew they might do something bad, because this would reflect badly on that country. But diplomatic immunity has a second, more meaningful, purpose. It was originally created to protect diplomats from unfair treatment in their host countries. For example, let’s say that a host country’s laws are always changing and a diplomat accidentally, or even intentionally, breaks a law in order to do what they think is right. Or maybe they didn’t break any laws, but the host country wants to punish the diplomat anyway. Diplomatic immunity would protect them from being arrested and prosecuted by an unstable and even corrupt government system.
But this immunity also comes with a lot of power. For example, let’s say that a Chilean diplomat lived and worked in Kenya. If the diplomat had full immunity, then they could do anything from stealing a candy bar to murdering someone, and Kenyan law enforcement could not arrest or prosecute them. And by the way, this is a made up scenario, I just chose two countries at random. But what I’m not making up is this: in 2011, an Indonesian domestic worker escaped after slaving for a Saudi Arabian diplomat living in Berlin, Germany. While the domestic worker found help at a local anti-trafficking shelter, it is unclear what happened to the diplomat who abused her. We don’t know if they’re still working in Germany or if they were sent back to Saudi Arabia. The German government could not prosecute the diplomat, but it is possible for Saudi Arabia to order the diplomat back to their home country. In some cases, diplomats can even be deported by their host country.
But even deportation doesn’t automatically resolve this issue. If the diplomat returns to their home country and isn’t tried there, then they’ll still have gotten away with it. If the domestic worker who was abused doesn’t find help, then they may be stuck in a foreign country with no way to get back home. And because there was probably a financial problem that led them to being trafficked in the first place, what would they do even if they did make it back home? This is all assuming that their case of trafficking even comes to light.
It’s hard to know exactly how often diplomats use their immunity to get away with human trafficking. According to the same report about the Indonesian worker, about 5-10 similar cases happen every year in Berlin alone. If we consider all of the capital cities around the world, there’s a chance that this happens way more than we realize. And that’s the issue with diplomatic immunity. While it’s meant to protect, the loopholes it provides also allow powerful people to do terrible things and get away with it.
But if the intentions behind diplomatic immunity are good, and an entire government can’t charge diplomats who do wrong, then what can we as individual citizens do about it? This is one of those cases where it’s best to prevent trafficking in the first place since fighting diplomatic immunity is hard to do. It’s important to inform domestic workers in your area before they enter into contracts with diplomats or other powerful people. I invite you tune into our next episode, where we’ll interview a lawyer who is an expert on this issue. With her insight, we’ll gain a better understanding of the problem and what can be done about it.
In the meantime, let’s hear from our next Audible Audience participant. Remember, if you send us a 30-second clip with your name, country, and what you do to fight human trafficking and we include it in our podcast, we’ll give you a shoutout on our social media or even send you a podcast t-shirt if you live in the US! Submissions can be sent to email@example.com. Now, take it away, Andres!
Andres: Hi, my name is Andrés Medellín, founder, captain and coach of Pitufo's Angels, a co-ed soccer team that has been raising awareness of sex trafficking in Miami. Since 2010, we have played in a lot of tournaments and leagues. We were champions of the Intramural Soccer League at FIU, Florida International University back in 2013, and we continue to play to this day in order to raise awareness of sex trafficking and end sex trafficking in Miami and the world. Thank you.
This has been the Trafficking Dispatch with Victoria Erdel. You can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and tune into our next episode which will be released on February 10 at 5 pm. Or, if you would like to interact with us before then, you can visit our website at thetraffickingdispatch.com, follow us on our social media accounts – our handles are below – or email us with any questions or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for tuning into this episode, and we hope you’ll tune in again to join the fight against human trafficking.