Taipei has reached an agreement with Washington which earns Taiwanese diplomats stationed in the US different degrees of immunities from criminal and civil jurisdiction, and from obligation to provide evidence as witnesses when they act outside the scope of their official duties, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official said yesterday.
This brings the level of legal protection for Taiwanese diplomats to an extent “very similar to” that the US grants to diplomats from countries with which Washington has diplomatic relations, said Bruce Linghu (令狐榮達), director-general of the ministry’s Department of North American Affairs.
The agreement was signed on Monday in Washington by Representative to the US King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) and American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Managing Director Barbara Schrage and it took effect immediately, the ministry said.
Taiwan and the US signed an agreement on privileges, exemptions and immunities on Oct. 2, 1980, to cover personnel in the Coordination Council for North American Affairs and AIT, which were established to deal with bilateral matters after the US changed its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
The new deal is not a revision of the 1980 accord, but a new one that incorporates “clear and concise stipulations” that accentuated the necessity to treat diplomats with due respect and courtesy, and the procedures by which diplomats are entitled to more protections and privileges, the ministry said.
Citing administrative procedures on both sides, the ministry said that the agreement will be unveiled only after the procedures are complete, in about two weeks’ time.
Linghu said the signing of the agreement held “significant meaning” for both countries to further develop bilateral relations because it was “a better safeguard” to protect diplomatic personnel in each other’s country.
“This enables them to exert their functions more effectively and thus to facilitate bilateral relations,” Linghu said at a regular news briefing.
Under the 1980 agreement, Taiwanese diplomats were only immune from legal suits and processes when the activities that they had allegedly committed were acts performed in the exercise of their authorized functions, or known as “functional immunity,” as opposed to the traditional rule of “absolute immunity” for diplomats as codified in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
Taiwan initiated a review of that pact in January last year after Jacqueline Liu (劉姍姍), then the director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Kansas City, Missouri, pleaded guilty to charges of violating a US federal labor law by mistreating two Filipina housekeepers.
Liu’s case demonstrated that Taipei and Washington had different interpretations of immunity coverage.
Liu was arrested by FBI agents in November 2011 outside the ladies’ room in the office building where her office was located and detained for two months before she pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement that helped secure her release.
The ministry had protested Liu’s arrest, calling it a “violation” of the 1980 agreement, and demanded her immediate and unconditional release. It said Liu should receive immunity under the 1980 pact. However, the US said Liu was not eligible for immunity for “actions not performed within the scope of [her] authorized functions.”
A ministry official, who wished to remain anonymous, yesterday disclosed some of the contents of the new agreement, under which diplomats at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in Washington are accorded more privileges than diplomats in TECOs located in 12 states.
The arrangement was in line with international practices that the diplomatic privileges of ambassadors are different from those of consular officials, the ministry official said.
Taiwanese diplomats and their families in Washington will be entitled to “functional immunities” and “immunities in general,” meaning that they will have “personal inviolability,” immunity from criminal and civil jurisdiction, and their residences and property will be inviolable, the official said.
For TECO directors-general and deputy directors-general, in addition to the immunities stipulated under the 1980 agreement when they perform their duties, they will now have “a certain degree of immunity when they act beyond the scope of their authorities,” the official said.
They will be immune from arrest or detention unless they have allegedly committed crimes for which a sentence of one year or longer may be imposed, another source said.
TECO personnel below the rank of deputy director-general have immunity only when they are involved in acts relating to official duties, but a new provision stipulates that they must be treated with due respect and courtesy, the ministry official said.