Journalism in the Public Interest

Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the Reach of Diplomatic Immunity


International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn appears for his arraignment in federal court on May 16, 2011. (Richard Drew-Pool/Getty Images)

The arrest of International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn for allegedly sexually assaulting a maid at a Midtown Manhattan hotel has raised many questions. One we had is what role diplomatic immunity might play -- and who else gets it.

The Latest on the Case

According to Strauss-Kahn's accuser, she entered his hotel room to clean it when Strauss-Kahn emerged nude from the bathroom, locked the maid in the room and assaulted her twice before she broke free. Earlier this afternoon, Strauss-Kahn was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court, where he pleaded not guilty and a New York Supreme Court judge denied him bail until his next court hearing.

Reuters, citing a report from France's RMC radio, said Strauss-Kahn has offered an alibi that contradicts the accuser's timeline: Strauss-Kahn has reportedly said he checked out of the hotel before the alleged assault took place, then left to meet his daughter for lunch and took a taxi to the airport.

Such an alibi, of course, should be easy enough to verify: The hotel's records should be able to tell when the maid accessed Strauss-Kahn's suite and whether it was before or after he'd checked out.

The New York Post reports that at Strauss-Kahn's bail hearing today, his defense attorney "hinted" he would argue that an encounter did occur, but was consensual.

What About 'Diplomatic Immunity,' Could Strauss-Kahn Still Invoke It?

Although a spokesman for the NYPD has said Strauss-Kahn does not have diplomatic immunity and Strauss-Kahn's lawyers have not invoked such protections, various media outlets and some experts have pondered whether Strauss-Kahn could still try to invoke it as part of a long-shot defense strategy.

The IMF is technically a U.N. agency, and so officials there can get some immunity. The BBC has a good backgrounder on the issue, noting that diplomatic immunity is granted by a hodgepodge of agency rules, federal law and international treaties. (Our friends at NPR's Planet Money also have a handy explainer on what the heck the IMF is anyway, and Slate explains the difference between the IMF and the World Bank.)

There seem to be three potential sources of diplomatic immunity that Strauss-Kahn might invoke: the IMF's Articles of Agreement, the U.S. International Organizations Immunity Act and the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations.

All three limit immunity to only a diplomat's "official acts," but what that means remains open to interpretation. Even the U.S. State Department's manual for law enforcement says what constitutes an official act "is an issue that may only be resolved by the court with subject matter jurisdiction over the crime."

How Do Courts Set the Scope for Diplomatic Immunity?

Defining "official acts" for the purposes of establishing diplomatic immunity isn't a new issue. In fact, it's a problem that has landed in several U.S. courts, with mixed results.

Reuters has pointed out several cases where domestic workers employed by foreign diplomats in the United States had their suits dismissed by judges who took a broad reading of what constitutes "official acts." In April, for example, a federal judge dismissed a civil suit against Lebanon's ambassador, who was accused of underpaying and verbally abusing his maid. The judge said hiring household workers was considered part of the ambassador's official duties.

But other judges have interpreted the scope of diplomatic immunity differently. In 2007, a federal judge in Manhattan said the Philippines ambassador could not claim immunity when he was sued by a former maid because the maid's duties benefited the family's "personal household needs" and were "unrelated" to his "diplomatic functions."

For Strauss-Kahn, it's impossible to know whether immunity will apply until the question is raised before a judge. So far, his lawyers have given no indication that they plan to assert it, nor has the IMF, which posted a brief statement on its website that said it would refer all inquiries to Strauss-Kahn's lawyers.

Strauss-Kahn is charged with five various sexual assault counts and one count of unlawful imprisonment. He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Special Victims Unit

May 16, 2011, 4:27 p.m.

Benson and Stabler wouldn’t tolerate any diplomatic immunity bullshit.

If they violate our laws and scream diplomatic immunity, then send them home. Period

The arrest of International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn for allegedly sexually assaulting a maid at a Midtown Manhattan hotel has raised many questions. One we had is what role diplomatic immunity might play—and who else gets it.


All newswriters should know how to write this lead. He was arrested — yes. He was accused — yes. But he was NOT “arrested for allegedly” doing anything. This dangerous phrase means he was arrested =because he did it= and you can’t say someone did something criminal until he pleads guilty to that charge or a judge or jury convicts him of that charge. Because “allegedly” does =not= protect the writer from a libel suit later, especially if he’s convicted of a lesser or different charge, a writer must stick to the facts.

If Strauss-Kahn did in fact sexually abuse the maid, that is truly reprehensible. I am not qualified to comment on his possible immunity from prosecution, but I do find it curious and not a little troubling that he was paraded in front of TV cameras and that the court arraignment was viewed by the public on television.
I don’t recall that Bernard Madoff’s court appearances were televised or that he was imprisoned before his trial. Strauss-Kahn may have been given some respect by the use of a tracking device instead of imprisoning him at Rikers Island. This may wind up as a case of an overzealous judge and prosecutor and a diplomatic embarrassment to the U.S. If DNA tests prove his guilt, he should be fined very heavily and not allowed to enter the U.S. again. His career is essentially finished as an international banker and his accuser should be compensated for pain and suffering.
My only point is that his pre-trial treatment should be in accord with fairness. If he posted a million dollar bond, I doubt that even Strauss-Kahn would be willing to forfeit that much money.
Most of Europe must be wondering about our proclivity for owning guns, or willingness to support the extreme views of the right wing and an ineffective Congress that can’t accomplish anything more than divisiveness.  Finally, sexual predation is inexcusable in every culture and should not be tolerated and if Strauss-Kahn is found guilty let it be by court evidence, not by headline-grabbing media and prosecutors.
Enough said.

Ahmar Mustikhan

May 16, 2011, 11:12 p.m.

Sorry to note how an addiction can ruin one’s life. In this case, if the allegations are true it certainly is a case of sex addiction.

Really? A 76 year old rapist? He’s a Socialist and a shoo-in for President of France in the next election. Of course we all know those socialists are all rapists or worse…closeted communists.  Like pot leading to heroin…socialism leads to commie pinkoism. So let’s set 76 year old Dom Strauss Kahn up with a sex crime like they did with Assange.
OMG! A major country on the UN security Council with a socialist President…and who is that 32 year old victim?  Maybe she can sue Viagra for making the old fart randier beyond his years.

If it’s true or if it’s just another set-up, this one’s going to get interesting

Next up for tawdry sex and scandalous escapades ...those other 2 socialists Hugo Chavez and Moammar Qaddafy. Their people love them…but we hate them?  Right?  Why?  Because Mo and Hugh got everybody in Libya and Venezuela guaranteed health care?  No insurance…no forms to fill out.  If you’re sick…go to the hospital.  Even Cuba has a Doctor surplus while our AMA limits the amount of Docs graduated annually from US Med schools…Why is that?

And let’s hope the words “distribution of income” are never heard in the corporate media or taught in the schools…so why give it a second thought.

He Ain’t a diplomat. He’s a bankster. A financier. This is a gross and needless expansion of diplomatic immunity.

Jasbir Chawla

May 17, 2011, 8:10 a.m.

A TV reporter should go to his daughter and ask her reaction ...! 76 years old rapist…creditable ?

The maid symbolizes the world, I hope she gets his balls.

Ummm lets see. Sofitel is a French owned hotel, the alleged victim is from a north African country named Guinea (formerly called French Guinea). I am not going to presume he is guilty just yet. It looks like it is very likely a frame-up. He has about to run for president of France. He did’t need to rape anyone, he can afford to buy it if he needs it.

In time, for all those inclined to serve Justice, we could know who was really victimized in this Strauss- Kahn VERSUS Sofitel chamber maid.
In the meantime lets assume nothing.

The crime he is supposed to have committed is very serious, and if he did this, he had this habit long before the incident. probably holding such an important function, all his addictions and vices were known and tolerated by his employers, so exposing this now is also a deliberate act.

This means that an investigation of the press must raise and answer two questions: “why now?” and “who is coming to fill his post?”. And other minor ones like for example what business had brought him to that hotel, was he supposed to agree to something and he didn’t, thus upsetting some powerful persons…?I did not gather this info from the general articles on the subject.

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