Diplomatic immunity angers crash victim

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A young Norwegian woman, severely injured when a South African diplomat crashed his car into hers in Oslo last winter, is angry and frustrated by South Africa’s subsequent refusal to assume responsibility. Norwegian police claim the diplomat was drunk, a serious offense in Norway, but his victim’s appeals for compensation have gone largely unanswered after he claimed diplomatic immunity from Norwegian law.

“If someone else had crashed into me, the driver would have been held responsible,” the 29-year-old crash victim who does not want to be identified told newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday. Instead, the diplomat avoided any punishment in Norway and has avoided paying her any compensation for her pain and suffering.

Multiple fractures and internal injuries
The crash occurred shortly after midnight on January 3, when the man driving a car registered to the South African Embassy in Oslo was found speeding on the boulevard Bygdøy allé and running a red light. With a police car following him, he then ran a second red light at the intersection of Bygdøy alle and Fredrik Stangs gate, just as the woman was crossing the intersection on a green light in a small VW Caddy. She was working as a health care aide for the nearby Aleris clinic and returning from a house call to a patient.

The diplomat’s crash victim was left pinned inside her car. Aftenposten reported that she suffered six fractures and internal injuries and was rushed to hospital after emergency workers finally freed her from the wreckage. Six months later she remains 100 percent disabled and has had to indefinitely postpone plans to start more course work in the health care field in August, which has led to a loss of earnings. “The doctors say it can take three to five years before they’re sure of a full recovery,” she told Aftenposten.

At Norway’s request, the diplomat was recalled to South Africa, where his fate remains unclear. Foreign ministry personnel, who have tried to help the young woman, have failed to get any concrete answers from South African authorities regarding liability. It was the first time in several years that Norwegian authorities had sought to essentially kick an embassy employee out of the country because of multiple drunk driving offenses.

Ambassador won’t take responsibility, either
The accident victim and her father have also tried for months to obtain acknowledgment from South Africa’s ambassador to Norway, Queen Anne Zondo, that she, too, bears responsibility for the diplomat’s actions, not least because Oslo police and Norway’s foreign ministry had complained to her about him before. He had been stopped by police on an earlier occasion, also under suspicion of drunk driving, but claimed diplomatic immunity then as well, leaving the police powerless to keep the man from driving and endangering others.

Aftenposten reported that Ambassador Zondo has not been willing to discuss the status of the incident, referring all inquiries to the foreign ministry in Pretoria. The victim has received similar treatment from officials at the South African Embassy in Oslo: “They tell me that I have to file a lawsuit against the South African state in Pretoria,” she said. “A health care worker on sick leave isn’t able to do that.”

She said that her own personal insurance won’t cover the loss of her education along with her job. “We’re sitting here with the bills because a drunk driver had diplomatic immunity,” her father told Aftenposten. He thinks Norway’s foreign ministry should offer compensation in such cases, but the ministry disagrees.

“It’s unfortunate if the woman’s insurance won’t cover her needs, but that’s not something for which the foreign ministry can assume responsibility,” Ane Haavardsdatter Lunde of the ministry told Aftenposten.

The case has sparked public interest in Norway, raised concerns among other diplomats in Norway that diplomatic immunity should not be abused and prompted several Norwegian lawyers to offer their assistance. They advise her to claim insurance benefits from her employer’s policy and the insurer of the car she was driving, with they in turn claiming compensation from the diplomat’s insurance.

Other Aftenposten readers have offered to start a fund-raising drive to help the woman, but the paper reported that she has “politely declined.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund