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Ask anyone who’s ever travelled regionally in a car with diplomatic plates and they’ll tell you what a pleasure it is.  You breeze through international borders without having even to stop or queue and you are waived through any roadside police or military checkpoints. 

The reason for this is that the vehicles’ occupants automatically enjoy ‘diplomatic immunity’, defined in international legal terms as ‘the immunities enjoyed by foreign states or international organisations and their official representatives from the jurisdiction of the country in which they are present’.  These immunities are a time-honoured tradition dating back several millennia, coming about at first through courtesy and custom but over the centuries gradually being enshrined in international law, a privilege which ensured exchanges of information, maintained contact and granted messengers safe-conduct.

Traditional mechanisms of protecting diplomats included religious-based codes of hospitality and the frequent use of priests as emissaries.   In the ancient world Greek heralds, recognised as inviolable by the city-states, procured safe passage for envoys prior to negotiations and as empires in China, India, and the Mediterranean grew more powerful, diplomatic protections decreased. The law of diplomatic immunity was significantly developed by the Romans, who grounded the protection of envoys in religious and natural law, guaranteeing the unassailability of ambassadors even after the outbreak of war.

During the Middle Ages in Europe, envoys and their entourages continued to enjoy the right of safe passage,  By the Renaissance permanent embassies developed, and the number of embassy personnel as well as the immunities accorded to them expanded, treating diplomats, their residences, and their goods as though they were located outside the host country—under the doctrine of ‘quasi extra territorium’ (Latin: “as if outside the territory”),  developed by the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) to sanction such privileges. 

Later treaties—such the 17th-century agreement between England and the Ottoman Empire that forbade searches of the British embassy, exempted the servants of embassies from taxes, and allowed the ambassador wine for his own use –  and statues such as the Act of Anne (1709) in England exempted ambassadors from civil suit and arrest – further cemented such privileges and immunites.

By the late 19th century, the expansion of European empires had spread the convention throughout the world.   However, such privileges carry with them the possibility of abuse and the position of diplomats and the public respect they enjoyed declined substantially in the 20th century.

This development, combined with certain other factors including the substantial growth in the number of new states after World War II, an increase in the size of diplomatic missions, and the increasing prevalence in international law of the view known as functionalism (according to which diplomatic privileges should be limited to those necessary to enable a diplomat to accomplish his mission)—led eventually to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), which restricted the privileges granted to diplomats, their families, and staff. Avoiding controversial issues such as diplomatic asylum and focusing on permanent envoys,  the convention accorded immunity from criminal prosecution and from some civil jurisdiction to diplomats and their families and lesser levels of protection to staff members, who generally were given immunity only for acts committed in the course of their official duties.

So that is a potted history of the convention of diplomatic immunity and the noble reasons by which it came  about  but the drawback is that it relies somewhat on the  conscience and moralities of differing national missions.  Transgressions range from the trivial ‘pushing their luck’ offences, such as refusal to pay parking fines (it’s estimated by the British Foreign Office that diplomats currently owe £100m ((P1500m) in unpaid congestions charges alone) to the very serious. 

One high-profile case involved PC Yvonne Fletcher, a London Metropolitan Police officer who died policing a demonstration outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984 after being hit by gunfire from a first-floor embassy window.  After an 11-day siege of the building, the UK government arranged for the deportation of a number of Libyan diplomats but diplomatic immunity meant the police could not search the bags of the diplomats and staff being deported and thus identify the culprit. 

In 2017, there were 12 serious offences allegedly committed by people entitled to diplomatic protection in the UK, five being driving related but other crimes included sexual assault, blackmail and possession of a firearm and let’s not forget the case of Julian Assange, an Australian national who sheltered in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid facing sexual assault charges in Sweden and extradition to the USA for his role as founder of Wikileaks for almost 7 years, finally being forcibly removed in April this year.

The immunity controversy has reared its ugly head again in the past week with the case of Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a  US diplomat based in the UK who was questioned by British police after she was allegedly involved in a car accident which killed teenager Harry Dunn in August.  Having assured the police that she would make herself available for possible further questioning, Mrs. Sacoolas was spirited out of the country and back to the USA by private jet last weekend, under the umbrella of diplomatic immunity, an act which is causing a major furore.  Harry Dunn’s grieving family have appealed to her better nature, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made a formal appeal to his US counterpart, Donald Trump, to review the situation and the British press has taken up the cudgel on the family’s behalf.

It’s a tricky one.  Firstly, Mrs. Sacoolas had not been charged with any offence before she left and secondly because as the wife of a serving mission staff member she  would have been covered by the diplomatic immunity umbrella of the Vienna Convention.  The latter, however, is not universally extended to serious crimes.  One comparable precedent occurred in the United States in 1997 where a Georgian diplomat killed an American teenager in a car accident. 

Georgia removed the diplomat's immunity and he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.  However,  it is also a convention that the US State Department  closes ranks where its own citizens are concerned and an official statement commented that  diplomatic immunity was "rarely waived".

Policy is  policy and it seems unlikely that Mrs. Sacoolas will be surrendered to British authorities any time soon.  But then again, that hundred million pound unpaid congestion charge bill stands  even less chance of being paid any time soon.    Diplomatic immunity is an honoured protocol but in the words of Hamlet perhaps occasionally it should be ‘a custom more honoured in the breech than in the observance’.

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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