Why the Dutch Hate Diplomatic Immunity

In recent weeks foreign representatives in the |Hague have been the subject of much controversy. From unpaid parking fines to Borodin-gate, diplomats are publicly under attack in the Netherlands. The underlying reason for this criticism is the diplomatic immunity that the representatives enjoy. This question of immunity has become a hot topic in Dutch society. A lot of Dutch people wonder why these diplomats have this immunity and effectively ‘stand above the law’. Unfortunately, they are failing to understand the importance of diplomatic immunity. They have the mentality that no one person should be above the law, including diplomats, leading to a general dislike of the foreign representatives in The Hague.

diplomaticWe haven’t had any problems with American diplomats yet, but with the NSA looking over everyone’s shoulder, who knows?


Egalitarian Society

The Netherlands, being a country founded on Calvinistic principles, has a strong tradition of striving for an equal society. No one is more important than anyone else. Fluitsma & van Tijn explain this idealized egalitarian society wonderfully in their song “15 Miljoen Mensen”, in which several lines refer to this sense of equality (No uniform is holy, a son calling his dad Piet (…) No CEO is really in charge). As a result of this idealized egalitarian society the Dutch see themselves as equal to everybody else. Rich or poor, black or white, male or female, gay or straight, everybody is our equal. Hell, we even consider King Willem-Alexander to be our equal. Because of this egalitarian ideal, the Dutch feel that in the eyes of the law everybody should be treated the same. Within Dutch society there is a widely and strongly held belief that no one stands above the law (not even the King himself). This strong conviction does not mix well with the idea of diplomatic immunity

Forget the Wilhelmus, this is the real Dutch anthem.


Standing above the law

The idea of diplomatic immunity makes the Dutch people’s hackles rise and results in situations in which news reporters chase down diplomats who avoid paying their parking fines (see video) and culminates in the Minister of Foreign Affairs who, through gritted teeth, apologizes for violating diplomatic immunity and thus international law. The Dutch feel that since these diplomats function within Dutch society they should be held accountable to the Dutch legal system, because “we are all equal and should be treated as such”. When diplomats ‘break’ our laws and are not tried in our legal system, we feel they stand above the law. In a society where everybody should be treated equally, these diplomats who ‘break’ the law and ‘stand above the law’ are generally disliked and not well appreciated.

If I were driving a Mercedes I wouldn’t pay my fines either.


Standing outside the law

However, what the Dutch are failing to understand is that diplomatic immunity does not mean diplomats stand above the law, it means they stand outside the law. Although this might seem to be a difference in semantics, the actual difference is that standing outside the law means there is no legal system of the host country for the diplomat and there is thus no legal system to stand above. To put it simply; there are no laws of the host country to break for diplomats, because the diplomat is not a part of the legal system. The reason for this diplomatic immunity is so that diplomats can carry out their responsibilities without any hindrances, such as a legal system in the host country. Although this might seem a little unnecessary in Western countries, it is indispensable in countries with a less than functioning or fair legal system. It is also in the interest of Dutch diplomats in countries where diplomatic immunity is necessary to carry out their jobs, because of strange laws or a corrupted legal system. If the Dutch expect their diplomats to do their jobs unimpeded (like not getting beaten up by Russian extremists), we also need to respect the work and immunity of the foreign representatives working in The Hague.

the_simpsons.10x16.make_room_for_lisa I always expected Bart to do have diplomatic immunity

Be nice to diplomats

Unfortunately, a lot of Dutch people cannot see past the idea that diplomats ‘stand above the law’ and they cannot seem to understand the necessity for diplomatic immunity. This has instigated some sort of witch hunt on diplomats in The Hague. The sad fact is, this general dislike of the foreign representatives is cause for much distress within the diplomatic community. Diplomats generally promote a more peaceful world and better understanding of different countries after all. The Netherlands, being a globally-minded country and heavily dependent on other countries, economically and politically, should be warm-hearted towards diplomats, not distrustful.


  1. Yeah, but, if they stand ‘outside’ the law, they still have to follow rules. If not, you embarres your country. And so the country, Russia in this story, must send an other outlaw for diplomatic things and stuff. Driving drunk is a crime, in almost every country, at least Russia have to pay the damage of this lady.
    If diplomatics don’t follow the law, the must be send back to their country.
    If you can behave and follow the simple rules we have, than there’s ‘nothing on the hand’

    • Although you’re argument is logically sound, the problem with diplomatic
      immunity is if you question the integrity of a diplomat, you question
      the integrity of the home country of the diplomat, which is a big no-no
      in the diplomatic world. Of course we can ask the diplomats to follow
      our laws, but in the end it is up to the government of those diplomats
      to act accordingly.

  2. The Dutch are hypocrites in so many ways…and this diplomatic “issue” is only one of them. Since we do not see our diplomats in other countries, better do not judge others. Do you guys really think that Dutch diplomats in foreign countries are saints?

    • I personally know of (Dutch) diplomats in the US who paid their rent in Cuban cigars, which were brought illegally in their diplomatic suitcases. Might not be the gravest of violations, but an example of Dutch diplomats abusing their immunity.

      • Excuse me, had to jump in here. Who ever said that Dutch citizens dont agree that Dutch diplomates should’t be held acountable for their actions??? I absolutely believe they should be. I do understand the necessity of the immunity of the diplomats during their work. But in their free time they should obey the rules of the country they live in. I competely agree with Jelger on this. And whats the whole deal with questioning the integrety of the country of the diplomat. The only one who lost his integrety is the diplomat. He’s responsable for its own actions just like you and me.

  3. I wouldn’t call PowNed a representative of the Dutch public opinion. They make programs to provoke, and their whole style of reporting is based on annoying people in order to force out reactions. The case of the Russian diplomat taken under arrest and the subsequent reactions has nothing to do with disrespect of diplomatic immunity, but the fact that a person was abusing his children while heavily drunk. Should the police have let this person beat up his children for whatever reason imaginable? That is inhuman, and that’s what is bothering ‘the Dutch’. Instead of accusing the Netherlands of disrespecting diplomatic immunity, it should rather be questioned if this principle should be revised for cases where there are people under direct threat.

    • hear hear. The police only intervened after the 3rd independent call on disturbances, and AFTER missy diplomat crashed 3 cars of Dutch taxpayers, luckily not hitting any teenagers on saturday night biking to their saturday night out. So technically speaking police stepped outside its authority in regard of the rules of the Vienna conventions, but hardly one can maintain this was a violation of the spirit of the convention – whichg is to protect diplomats from being harassed in their work. The convention is not meant to protect hooliganism. The diplomat and his wife were not working, they were not harassed in their functioning as diplomat and as such the intentions of the convention were not broken. It was a technical error of the police of 3 hours, a case of intimidation cannot be maintained either. All these people blabbing about the “grave violation of international law” should learn to see the case in the context of events and the context of the intentions of the convention.

      On top of that, a nation that is known for chronic drunks (we finally got rid of yelstin) confirming its stereotype image by a drunk top-diplomat couple on 2 different incidents on the same night as hardly something to be proud of. Time to sing a lower tune.

    • The whole case of Borodin is more a question of what is morally right or legally right. Within international law there is still a prevalence to always follow what is legally right, hence the lack of humanitarian intervention in crises areas (because sovereignty). The Dutch always have a notion to follow what is morally right though. We are known to get on our moral high horse and tell everybody what is wrong and right. Although this is great in a lot of situations, we should also learn to understand why sometimes certain things might be morally wrong, but legally right. With the Borodin case it is legally right to not intervene within his private sphere, because he and his family are part of the Russian legal system. When the police found out there was a problem going on, they should have called the Russian authorities and let them deal with the problem. A revision of this principle is difficult, because it so necessary within the diplomatic community. The level of abuse has been very insignificant and the question arises if a overhaul of the system to do the moral right thing would do more harm than good in the end.

      Also, I have to disagree that PowNed is a representative of the Dutch public opinion. They are part of the Dutch public broadcasting network, have a significant amount of members, and have a good amount of followers. You might disagree with the way they report, but the network does represent the voice of a part of the Dutch public opinion.

  4. To stand outside the dutch law is one thing, but should this mean that they stand outside law made by international conventions? Shouldn’t they respect the law of, for example, the European Convention on Human Rights, or are they entitled to do whatever the like in disrespect of any law?

    • Diplomats have to abide by the legal system of their home country. If this country has signed and ratified international conventions and places importance on these conventions (which not always the case), it is assumed diplomats have to follow these laws. However, in a lot of cases diplomats can get away with things, because of the power and control they usually have within the legal system of their home country, especially if the country does not have a stable legal system. For example, if a Dutch diplomat would murder someone it is highly likely the diplomat will be tried in the Dutch legal system or his immunity would be waived by the Dutch government. However, there have been cases (1984 murder of Yvonne Fletcher in London) where diplomats got away with severe acts because their home country did not prosecute them, mostly because of political reasons.

      A good read about stuff like this is the Wikipedia page about diplomatic immunity: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diplomatic_immunity. There is also a section about abuse and what the reaction was of the host and home country.

  5. HMMM this sounds more interesting than it actually is…and sadly so because of the lack of actual arguments. The writer very boldly exclaims that and i quote: ‘This has instigated some sort of witch hunt on diplomats in The Hague. The sad fact is, this general dislike of the foreign representatives is cause for much distress within the diplomatic community.’ Living in The Hague and biking her streets daily I have not once seen a witch hunt on diplomats and not once have I experienced a general dislike of foreign representatives. Seeing that there are no examples in this article that might lend credibility to this theory I think that it cant possibly that bad.
    I do however think that Koen Hocker does what all dutch people do so well, – bringing themselves down in order to express some wild and wonderful respect for foreigners. Don’t do it Dutchies – you are ok!

    • DutchReview generally has a bit of a humorous and bold stand towards news and this is the reason for my exaggerating. I’m fully aware that diplomats are not being hunted down and dragged on the streets. However, the recent problems with diplomats and their immunity has created a bit of a general dislike among Dutch people of these “hoge piefen”. This general dislike, in my opinion because of wrong reasoning, has undoubtedly raised some eyebrows within the diplomatic community in The Hague.

      And although your last paragraph wasn’t meant to be a compliment, I take it as such! Being Dutch comes with the realization that we aren’t big-shots on the international stage. I’ve noticed that, without losing any pride in my heritage, it is often appreciated when playing ourselves down (with a bit of humor of course), even though this might sound weird.

  6. The recent problem with diplomats is not with EVERY diplomat (as this article suggests). Only a few who aparantly have a total disrespect for their host country, and who make a misuse of their diplomatic function. A diplomat should be aware of the rules and morals of a country, and try not to offend the people. In this case they behave like total trash (drunk driving, child abuse, total disbehaviour in traffic, not paying fines and attacking journalists). So being a diplomat has to start with one thing: act like a diplomat. So the problem here are not the Dutch, but the few diplomats themself. They were not attacked, the were not tortured etc. That cannot be said of our own diplomat in Russia…..

  7. A few days ago, some Dutch burglars were busy at the Russian embassy at the Banstraat in The Hague. Police said this has nothing to do with any political issues. Just a regular house for these burglars. Unafortunatly there stood a Russian CD car near by…
    Russian media calls this item a strike back, so I think we can already send a chest to Russia for our Dutch Diplomat

  8. The Dutch people are not an egalitarian society; I lived seven years there and I felt discriminated many times because I was not Dutch, so this is a copout for not respecting diplomatic immunity. If diplomats want the Dutch to respect diplomatic immunity, they just need to inform the Dutch people
    they will leave and move all International Organizations to other countries, then they will get the attention of the Dutch society because that will hit them where it hurts the most, their pockets because they are a money society…..


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