Diplomatic Immunity and Human Trafficking

Despite a global crackdown on human traffickers and a pledge by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that stopping this type of “modern slavery” was a top priority, foreign diplomats in the United States use claims of immunity to avoid criminal investigations and sidestep civil lawsuits when they abuse members of their household staffs. The immunity also has stifled revelations about the magnitude of the problem, forcing some self-proclaimed victims to wait for the diplomats to leave the U.S. and then turn to essentially unenforceable civil suits to tell their stories.

Legislation signed in December 2008 prevents the abuse, exploitation and trafficking of domestic workers employed by foreign diplomats in the U.S. The law ensures that the workers are aware of their rights and requires a diplomat to have a contract with a worker containing conditions of employment. The law requires the State Department to suspend the issuance of special visas for any country where there is credible evidence of worker abuse and that abuse has been tolerated by the mission. It gives the secretary of state the power to refuse to issue the special visas but does not suspend or limit the use of diplomatic immunity.

Earlier this year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told a Cabinet-level meeting of the President’s Task Force to Combat and Monitor Trafficking of Persons that the State Department was making sure that diplomats “understand their obligations and responsibilities, and we’re taking action when we have evidence they are not.” Yet, not a single foreign mission in the United States has been suspended for abusing its workers. The State Department declined to say why it has not suspended any countries from the special visa program and refused to give details on what steps, if any, it had taken to curb the problem of foreign diplomats exploiting their workers and then hiding behind diplomatic immunity. The Justice Department declined to explain how it handles the problem of diplomats who claim immunity from criminal prosecution.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, said the State Department “ought to act aggressively” to stop the abuse of domestic workers at foreign missions in this country, saying the failure to do so is “unacceptable.” He inserted language in the department’s fiscal 2012 spending bill requiring U.S. attorneys nationwide to establish human trafficking task forces to investigate people and groups that facilitate trafficking.

“President Obama spoke recently before the United Nations where he called human trafficking modern slavery,” Mr. Wolf said. “He made a big deal of confronting and controlling it. I would like to see some action rather than listen to a sermon.”

Learn more at Chuck Neubauer’s Washington Times article: Diplomats immuned to charges of human trafficking.

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