Norway’s foreign ministry has asked South African officials to rescind the diplomatic immunity claimed by an employee of South Africa’s embassy in Oslo, after he caused a serious car crash late Saturday night while driving under the influence of alcohol. It was at least his second alleged drunk-driving offense, and Norwegian authorities want him to face charges.
South Africa’s ambassador to Norway, Queen Ann Zondo, was called into a meeting at the foreign ministry on Monday. “We made it clear that we want South African authorities to rescind their diplomat’s immunity, so he can be questioned by Norwegian police,” ministry spokeswoman Ane Lunde told TV2.
Zondo has apologized for the car crash Saturday night that has set off a diplomatic incident. She told TV2 that the embassy has been in contact with both Norwegian and South African authorities and that she was awaiting an official letter from Norway’s foreign ministry to get its complaint and request in writing.
Lunde told TV2 that Norwegian officials had been “oriented” by police that the diplomat in question had been stopped once before on suspicions of driving under the influence of alcohol. On Saturday night, he refused to submit to a breathalyzer test after crashing with another car in Oslo’s Frogner district, while a passenger in his car ran off.
The accident left a young health care worker pinned in the car she was driving while on her way to assist a patient at home. She works for the private Aleris clinic in Oslo, but wound up in hospital with a broken hip and possible internal injuries.
Zondo said that embassy staff, “on behalf of South Africa,” were very sorry about what happened, and that she personally felt the embassy should send the crash victim a greeting with wishes for a speedy recovery.
South Africa’s ambassador said the diplomat driving the embassy car was on holiday and therefore not at work on Monday. She said she had to wait for instructions from the South African government regarding “what they want us to do,” regarding any possible revocation of his diplomatic immunity.
‘Undermines’ diplomatic immunity
One of Norway’s foremost veteran diplomats, meanwhile, made it clear on Monday that allowing the South African diplomat to avoid prosecution on drunk driving charges would “undermine” the principles behind diplomatic immunity. Thorvald Stoltenberg, who served for many years in Norway’s foreign service before becoming foreign minister himself, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that diplomatic immunity is meant to make it easier for diplomats to work for peace, not to let them get away with crimes.
“It shouldn’t be misused,” Stoltenberg told DN. It often is, though, with diplomatic cars also absolved from paying parking fines. He claimed that he got a parking ticket once, many years ago while working in San Francisco, but he paid it.
Stoltenberg said the most common reaction when a diplomat breaks a local law is for the diplomat to be recalled and sent home. Ministry officials said on Sunday that it’s possible the South African diplomat would be declared uønsket (unwelcome) by Norwegian officials, a move that would pressure the South Africans to recall him.