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Diplomatic Bag

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55814.  Mon Feb 27, 2006 2:47 pm Reply with quote

Question: How can you get a pair of tweezers onto an aeroplane?

Answer: According to the US Transport Security Administration website, they are no longer banned. Bugger.

OK, Question: How can you get a pair of scissors onto an aeroplane?

Answer: In a diplomatic bag.

The diplomatic bag, as ratified by the Vienna Convention (1961), is a container (any container will do, it doesn’t have to be a bag*) which cannot be opened or detained by officials of the country through which it passes.

These bags, carried by couriers who also enjoy immunity from prosecution, must have a visible marking on the outside, and must be accompanied by an official document stating their nature. Not only are they immune from being opened, they should also not be x-rayed, but despite the fact that they perform an important task in transporting official documents - the queens speech is carried in a diplomatic bag, as were Churchill’s cuban cigars during WWII - they have occasionally been used for more unscrupulous means, for instance the Nazis used diplomatic bags to smuggle artwork.

Recent occasions when large amounts of drugs have been found in diplomatic bags, from Sierra Leone and Trinidad & Tobago, as well as the worry that terrorists could exploit this loophole, have led a number of voices to claim that the whole diplomatic bag issue should be revised. Especially as the internet has made the transport of information a lot less reliant on a courier. However, somewhat surprisingly, the US is not too keen - of course ending diplomatic immunity may help their security, but it would also scupper the many thousands of occasions that the rule is used by America.

*The USSR once used a 9 tonne tractor trailer as a diplomatic bag, driving it through Europe. The Swiss were not too happy, and neither were the West Germans who decided to violate the convention and open the truck. Soviet officials agreed, and upon opening the truck the Germans found 207 crates, each with “diplomatic bag” written on them in Cyrillic - these constituted acceptable diplomatic bags and so were not opened themselves.

Links: Drugs,,2763,1276203,00.html

Frederick The Monk
56728.  Fri Mar 03, 2006 10:04 am Reply with quote

The British Parliament first guaranteed diplomatic immunity to foreign ambassadors in 1709, after Count Andrey Matveyev, a Russian resident in London, had been subjected by British bailiffs to verbal and physical abuse.

Just before leaving Britain, Matveyev was accosted and apprehended by some bailiffs, "a Brutal sort of People", who made his release contingent on payment of 50 pounds. Having suffered verbal and physical abuse, Matveyev reported to the Russian Foreign Office that the Britons "have no respect for common law whatsoever". Despite subsequent apologies from the Parliament and the Queen, the diplomatic corps in London raised such an outcry over the incident that it led the Parliament to adopt the Statute of Anne (April 21, 1709), the first-ever act to guarantee diplomatic immunity.

Frederick The Monk
56737.  Fri Mar 03, 2006 10:19 am Reply with quote

You can't carry a bomb in your diplomatic bag (although it's not clear how you'd find out if there was one there):

Article 27

4. The packages constituting the diplomatic bag must bear visible external marks of their character and may contain only diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use.

(18 April 1961)

56739.  Fri Mar 03, 2006 10:20 am Reply with quote

Not even an official bomb for official use?

Frederick The Monk
56742.  Fri Mar 03, 2006 10:23 am Reply with quote

Not according to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission in it's investigation into the bombing of the London HQ of the ANC by the South African government.

They concluded:
"… that the operation against the ANC diplomatic mission in London was authorised by the South African government at the highest level and that the prime minister, Mr PW Botha, and the Minister of Law and Order, Mr Louis le Grange, are deemed to be directly accountable. The raid was undertaken in violation of the territorial sovereignty of the United Kingdom and was also a violation of international law in terms of … the 1961 Vienna convention on diplomatic relations in regard to the use of the diplomatic bag"


56746.  Fri Mar 03, 2006 10:34 am Reply with quote

From one of my old dvd questions:

In 1987, James Brown’s wife Adrienne was stopped and charged with a number of traffic offenses. She pleaded innocent, and her lawyer attempted to use diplomatic immunity as her defence.

A year earlier, in a speech for Georgia’s ‘James Brown Appreciation Day’, a U.S. Representative had said that "James is indeed our No. 1 ambassador.". Adrienne’s lawyer therefore argued that as America’s No.1 ambassador, Brown and his wife were entitled to diplomatic immunity.

The plan didn’t work. The lawyer withdrew that line of defence the next day, realising that the Representative’s quote was meant as a figure of speech, rather than an actual decision that Mr Brown was to be a US Ambassador.

Frederick The Monk
56749.  Fri Mar 03, 2006 10:40 am Reply with quote

Never rent an office to a diplomat:

U.S. citizens and businesses are often at a disadvantage when filing civil claims against a diplomat, especially in cases of unpaid debts, such as rent, alimony, and child support. In the summer of 1994 U.S. diplomat Victor Marrero reportedly complained to the United Nations secretariat that foreign diplomats' debts in the United States were $5.3 million. The New Yorker later reported that a well-informed source had said the figure had risen "closer to $7 million."

The bulk of diplomatic debt lies in the rental of office space and living quarters. Individual debts can range from a few thousand dollars to $1 million in back rent. A group of diplomats and the office space in which they work are referred to as a mission. Creditors cannot sue missions individually to collect money they owe. Landlords and creditors have found that the only thing they can do is contact a city agency to see if they can try to get some money back. They cannot enter the offices or apartments of diplomats to evict them because the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act says that "the property in the United States of a foreign state shall be immune from attachment, arrest and execution" (28 U.S.C.A. § 1609). This has led creditors who are owed money by diplomats to become more cautious about their renters and to change their rental or payment policies. For example, Milford Management, a New York-based company that rents deluxe apartments, is owed more than $20,000 in back rent from diplomats from five different countries. Milford and other creditors have created their own "insurance" policies by refusing to rent to foreign missions unless there is a way of guaranteeing payment, such as collecting money in advance.


56847.  Sat Mar 04, 2006 6:17 am Reply with quote

In 1993 the UK was owed £1.3million in unpaid fines and rates including £34,480 owed by Libya in "minor traffic violation" bills.

Probably worth finding more up to date figures for the notes if we decide to go with this.

56892.  Sat Mar 04, 2006 10:03 am Reply with quote

Interestingly, 'diplomatic' and 'diploma' come from the Greek diploun to fold or double over, as this is what they did with the parchment before it was sealed and handed over to the graduand.

Probably to shield embarrassing Geoffs or shameful Douglases from peering eyes.

61606.  Thu Mar 23, 2006 9:42 am Reply with quote

Here's an ABC of Diplomacy

62460.  Wed Mar 29, 2006 8:34 am Reply with quote

Ken Livingstone has been reported to the Standards Board of England after calling the US Ambassador in London (who has refused to pay his diplomats' congestion charges) a "chisselling little crook".

The US owes London £400,000, or less than 0.01% of the State Department's annual budget.

The Times


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