The founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange was finally arrested last week by the British police. He has been wanted by enforcement authorities throughout the world for 7 years until his arrest, but the weird thing is the police and the whole world knew exactly where Julian Assange was – the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. But despite that, they didn’t arrest him until last week.
The British police didn’t wait 7 years to get Assange because they were incompetent or lazy, it was because of various legal reasons which apply throughout the world. In fact, Malaysia had a similar situation when...
North Korean officials hid in the North Korean Embassy
2 years ago, Kim Jong Nam (the brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un) was assassinated in KLIA 2. During the investigations for the assassination, PDRM wanted to question two North Korean officials named Hyon Kwan Song and Kim Uk Il.
The PDRM knew that they were in the North Korean Embassy, but they couldn’t do anything to arrest them just like how the British police couldn’t do anything to arrest Julian Assange. Actually in the end, the North Korean duo ended up fleeing back to North Korea without the knowledge of the PDRM.
In fact, on what may be a slightly unrelated note, there was a similar incident involving Anwar Ibrahim in 2008. He wasn’t avoiding the PDRM, but he sought refuge from the Turkish Embassy when he received death threats. He only came out after being satisfied that his safety would be assured.
Now given that Anwar felt safe in the Turkish Embassy from attackers and the North Korean duo felt safe from the PDRM itself, what’s so special about these embassies anyways? Why can’t the PDRM just go in and do their job???
Embassies enjoy immunity from the law
You may have seen it on TV, where embassies are referred to as foreign soil. While that may be the easiest way to explain why police can’t enter embassies, it’s not technically correct. The truth is an embassy is under the jurisdiction of the country that they’re in, it’s just that the laws of that country won’t apply to the premises of an embassy.
According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the law says:
This convention explains the mechanisms of this immunity thing better, because in addition to saying that embassies are immune from the law, the diplomatic staff also enjoy the same immunity. In fact the convention is so strict, it says that the host country cannot enter an embassy for any reason at all.
So if we were to use an example, the North Korean embassy in KL is technically on Malaysian soil, but Malaysian laws just don’t apply to it and Malaysians can’t simply enter the premises. Thus, PDRM can’t go in an embassy to arrest or conduct searches and even our Bomba can’t enter the premises to put out a dangerous fire – unless they were given permission to do so.
And we get it, this whole idea of diplomats having immunity may sound weird, because they can technically commit crimes and escape, but…
Embassies and diplomats need the immunity to do their job
Diplomats and embassies act as a representative of their respective countries to the host country. So the North Korean Embassy KL is basically representing the North Korean government in Malaysia.
To do their job properly as representatives, the host government cannot interfere with these representatives; hence the immunity. This legal immunity doesn’t just extend to entry and arrest, but to the documents and belongings of the diplomats. Which is why, even if the police were invited to enter the embassy, they can’t confiscate the stuff in there. In fact, they cannot even intercept items en route to the embassy, which is why embassies use “diplomatic bags” to avoid the inspection of customs and police.
And yes, while these immunities are needed for diplomats to work, people have abused it before. The diplomatic bags that we mentioned before, have been used before to transport illicit items like drugs. In fact, things have gotten even more sticky when diplomats are directly involved with crimes itself. On May 2014, a Malaysian diplomatic staff was alleged to have sexually assaulted a woman in her home and he couldn’t be arrested. Fortunately, the Malaysian government sent him back to New Zealand with his immunity revoked.
Thus, this whole immunity thing isn’t a perfect system since it’s open to abuse. But because diplomats need to do their job, the immunity must be there. However fret not about the potential of abuse because a diplomat’s government can revoke his immunity, allowing the host state to arrest him.