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Diplomats Behaving Badly

NEW YORK – Diplomats, normally discreet figures who rarely court publicity, have been in the news a lot lately, for all the wrong reasons. Two recent arrests of diplomats by their host countries have put a spotlight on the justification for, and limits of, the immunity from local law that such officials typically enjoy.

In the first case, Dmitri Borodin, the minister counselor at the Russian embassy in The Hague, was arrested late one night in October of last year, after neighbors alerted the Dutch police that Borodin, allegedly in a drunken state, was beating his two small children. He was handcuffed in his own home and taken to the police station.

According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, diplomats cannot be prosecuted according to a host country’s laws. So Russian President Vladimir Putin immediately demanded an official apology from the Dutch government for ignoring Borodin’s diplomatic immunity. The rabble-rousing Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky called on his followers to smash the windows of the Dutch embassy in Moscow. A week later, a Dutch diplomat in Moscow was beaten up at his home by armed thugs (no connection between the two cases has been proved).

The timing of all of this was awkward. The Dutch king, Willem Alexander, was about to visit Russia to celebrate the two countries’ friendly relations in the so-called “Netherlands-Russia Year.” The Dutch foreign minister duly apologized to Russia for the conduct of his country’s police, and Borodin was recalled to Moscow.