Embassy Law Web Log   
Washington, DC, USA      

Confusion in Diplomacy

Treason, espionage, whistle-blowing or personnel sqabbles at the embassy of Liberia in Washington? An allAfrica.com article of December 20, 2007, Liberia Embassy in Washington DC Astir, allows all of these conclusions from the report of a recent escalation of events at that embassy. Homeland Security, diplomatic immunities, embassy access, disclosures to enemies of the state, retaliation and other factors render a confusing picture. Some may have interesting legal implications. -- Clemens Kochinke, Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, LLP, Washington.

Convicted for Embassy Siege

On December 20, 2007, The Tocqueville Connection reports on the conviction by a Japanese court of a Red Army supporter who helped coordinate a siege of the French embassy in the Netherlands in 1974. The defendant's involvement in the hostage-taking at the embassy led to a sentence of 20 years imprisonment which the Tokyo High Court now upheld. -- Clemens Kochinke, Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, LLP, Washington.

Trash, Loot, Art, Ownership

Ancient trash as modern art is the subject of litigation in many countries. Iran just won a ruling in London requiring the return of artifacts from an art dealer, the International Herald Tribune reports in UK Appeals Court Reinstates Iran's Claim to Art it Says was Looted, on December 21, 2007. -- Clemens Kochinke, Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, LLP, Washington.
Disclosure: The author's partner, Thomas G. Corcoran, Jr., represents Iran in similar matters in the United States.

Assault at British Embassy

A by-product of research for the previous entry: After a well-attended February 11, 1964 concert at the Washington, DC Coliseum where almost 8,000 admirers out-shouted the Beatles, the British Embassy received the group on Massachusetts Avenue. There, a large lock was cut off from Ringo Starr's hair which prompted an apology from the Ambassador's wife:

I really am terribly sorry about the scene in the ballroom. The Beatles Ultimate Experience recalls Ringo's comment: These diplomats just don't know how to behave. Fourty years later, the number would likely be 80,000 and the lost hair would prompt a lawsuit. -- Clemens Kochinke, Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, LLP, Washington.

British Council non grata

Expulsions by declaring a diplomat persona non grata occur quite infrequently. As discussed here before, other means exist to make an undesired official leave, and the official declaration is sometimes considered a measure of last resort. As such, it can invite tit-for-tat reprisals.

Currently, the British cultural institution, British Council--also prominently listed on the British Embassy's web site in Washington, DC--finds itself the target of retaliation in Russia. 20 Russians would lose their positions with the organization, the Guardian reports on December 13, 2007 in Russia Orders British Council Offices to be Shut Down.

Russia claims that the council operated illegally and violated tax laws as well as the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963, the paper continues. In Washington, numerous cultural and scientific organizations operate and complement traditional activities of embassies. Many lack the accreditation of diplomats but may utilize A-2 visas and are subject to the tax laws in the United States, including those of localities.

The alleged violation of the convention relates to the operation of the British Council out of British consulates, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin reportedly explained. Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, admitted that the closing was ordered in response to Britain's expulsion of Russian diplomats last July. On December 14, 2007, the Times of Malta reports that Russia called the British response to the closings provocative.-- Clemens Kochinke, Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, LLP, Washington.

Missed Consular Notification

The failure to notify the Mexican consulate of the Californian detention of a suspected criminal of Mexican nationality did not adversely affect his legal rights, the California Supreme Court decided in The People v. Martin Mendoza, docket no. S067678.

The court grappled with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations issues presented by the 2004 Avena ruling of the International Court of Justice and its requirement that national courts review violations for prejudice caused a defendant, supra at 29 et seq.

On November 29, 2007, the court confirmed the conviction and death sentence but opened the door to a habeas corpus proceeding in which evidence on prejudice may be presented. The court took note of the pending United States Supreme Court review in Ex Parte Medellin (Tex.Crim.App. 2006) 223 S.W.3d 315, cert. granted Apr. 30, 2007, sub nom. Medellin v. Texas, No. 06-984, _ U.S. _ (127 S. Ct. 2129; 167 L. Ed. 2d 862). -- Clemens Kochinke, Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, LLP, Washington.

Health Care Reforms Embassies

For foreigners from non-English-speaking nations, communicating health issues to physicians is not an easy task and a deterrent to seeking medical care. In addition, the health care system is confusing and the cost not transparent.

To mitigate resulting adverse effects on their nationals' health, Latin American nations are now instituting medical services at consulates in the United States, the Washington Post reports on November 19, 2007. Mexico is said to plan the provision of health care to all Mexcians regardless of where they are, the Post notes.

This development may raise interesting issues under the FSIA when the patients are not diplomatic personnel. -- Clemens Kochinke, Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, LLP, Washington.

Enslavement by Diplomats

Accusations of enslavement of domestic workers by diplomats form the basis of a petition filed November 15, 2007 with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC. Allegations of abusive treatment of visa dependents in the homes of diplomatic personnel are not unique to the United States but the new action takes the issue to a new level at the intersection of human rights treaties and the Vienna conventions on the privileges and immunities of diplomats as well as the protection afforded them through the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

Supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, together with Global Rights and the Immigration/Human Rights Clinic of the University of North Carolina School of Law, the petitioners complain in their 136-page submission of complicity by the United States in their enslavement by defeating judicial redress of the rights of victims employed in the United States.

By upholding one set of treaties to protect diplomats at embassies, consulates and international organizations, the United States is said to violate its human rights obligations under other treaties. -- Clemens Kochinke, Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, LLP, Washington.

Host Country Issues Concern United Nations

The United Nations Committee on Relations with the Host Country presented its annual report through the Sixth Committee (Legal) November 12, 2007. Visa issuance by the host country and parking for diplomats were among the main issues.

Considering the preservation of appropriate conditions for the normal work of delegations and the observance of diplomatic privileges and immunities to be in the interest of the United Nations, the General Assembly requested the United States as host country to take all necessary measures to maintain smooth functioning of diplomatic work for the U.N.

The report outlines several specific areas relating to transportation and security in which the United States could improve. The representative of the Russian Federation was particularly concerned with issues relating to new parking fees imposed on diplomatic vehicles at JFK Airport and ensuring that New York authorities complied with rules exempting diplomatic missions from U.S. taxes.

The Committee also recommended that the application time for visa issuance by the host country for Member States be shortened. The current time frame is reportedly inhibiting the full participation of the Member States in U.N. meetings.

Additional draft resolutions concerning diplomatic protection, criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission, the responsibility of States for internationally wrongful acts, the Report of the Special Committee on the Charter of the United Nations and on the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization were also introduced at the meeting along with a report on the United Nations Programme of Assistance on the appreciation of international law. More specific coverage of the meeting can be found at the United Nations website. -- Genevieve Cohoon, legal assistant, Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, LLP, Washington.

Embassy Attacker in Yemen gets Jailtime

On November 12, 2007, the Primary Penal Court in Sanaa sentenced Saleh Alawi al-Amari to five years in jail for shooting at the United States Embassy in Yemen. As reported in Newsyemen.net, Saleh had fired an automatic weapon at the building the previous December in what the prosecutor described as protest against U.S. policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Saleh also resented U.S. support for the Israelis in Lebanon and Palestine. The court, headed by Judge Mohsin Alwan, found Saleh guilty, noting that Yemeni law prohibits such attacks against foreigners. -- Genevieve Cohoon, legal assistant, Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, LLP, Washington.