US diplomat doesn’t have ‘absolute immunity’, says IHC in hit-and-run case


–Victim family’s lawyer says ‘absolute immunity of diplomats may defeat citizens’ trust in the justice system’


ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) ruled on Friday that a United States diplomat, who allegedly killed a youth in a traffic incident in the federal capital, does not have “absolute immunity”.

On April 7, US diplomat Colonel Joseph Emmanuel Hall killed a youth and injured the pillion rider as he jumped the traffic signal at the intersection of Margalla Road and 7th Avenue in the federal capital.

The deceased was identified as 22-year-old Ateeq Baig, a resident of Talhar village in Margalla Hills.

The diplomat was later released after the Foreign Office (FO) said he enjoys diplomatic immunity.

Justice Aamer Farooq was hearing a petition filed by the deceased man’s father.

On Monday, the court had reserved the verdict, ordering the Interior Ministry to decide about placing Col Hall’s name on the Exit Control List (ECL) within two weeks.

Mohammad Idrees, Ateeq’s father, had filed a petition through his counsel Shahzad Akbar for placement of the diplomat’s name on ECL. CCTV footage of the Safe City Project shows the diplomat driving a white land cruiser at a high speed and hitting the motorcycle after violating the red signal.

On April 24, the interior ministry had informed the court that in order to restrict the movement of Col Hall, his name had been placed on the blacklist of the directorate of immigration.

The counsel, in his concluding arguments before Justice Farooq on Monday, had argued that “absolute immunity of diplomats may defeat citizens’ trust in the justice system”.

The counsel had further urged that the rights of citizens should be upheld and “depriving innocent persons of their life could lead to a chaotic situation as the citizens will no longer trust in the criminal justice system”.

“Where there is no such trust in any given society, the criminal justice system becomes inadequate.”

The counsel said that under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961, there was a diplomatic ‘immunity’ not ‘impunity’.

After the accident on April 7, the police released the US diplomat because the Vienna convention provided him immunity.

According to Article 29 of Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961, the person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. “He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. The receiving state shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom or dignity.”

Furthermore, the Foreign Office summoned US Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale to record “strong protest” against the killing of the Pakistani citizen.