US diplomat who killed biker in road accident doesn’t have ‘absolute immunity’, IHC rules

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Islamabad, May 11: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday ruled that a United States diplomat, who was involved in a traffic accident that led to the death of a youth in the capital, does not have absolute immunity.

On April 7, US Defence and Air Attaché Col Joseph Emanuel Hall jumped a red light at Daman-i-Koh Chowk and hit a motorcycle. As a result, two riders of the bike suffered injuries and one of them, 22-year-old Ateeq Baig, later died.

Col Hall had escaped arrest because of diplomatic immunity but a first information report (FIR) regarding the incident was registered with Kohsar Police Station.

Ruling on a petition of the deceased man’s father, Justice Aamer Farooq ruled that the diplomat does not have absolute immunity.

In the verdict that was reserved on Monday and announced today, the court has ordered 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.

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

He said if rights of citizens are not upheld and an innocent person is deprived of their life, a chaotic situation arises in which citizens will have no trust in the criminal justice system.

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

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

Diplomatic immunity is not intended to serve as a licence for persons to flout the law and purposely avoid liability for their actions, he argued.

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