(U-WIRE) STATESBORO, Ga. – According to the United States Bureau of Consular affairs, 2,500 Americans are arrested overseas each year. Also, according to the study, more and more women are being arrested for acting as drug couriers, or “mules.”
With more and more students taking part in study abroad programs, the possibility for finding trouble overseas is increasing. Just recently, American student John Tobin was detained for six months in Russia for violation of drug laws. While drug laws tend to be stringent across the globe, some U.S. citizens tend to think that they have constitutional rights wherever they go.
“The constitution only applies in areas that are controlled by the United States,” says Nancy Shumaker, Georgia Southern University’s Director of the Center of International Studies. “Once you enter a country, you fall under their laws.”
The problem lies, according to Shumaker, in that students don’t often familiarize themselves with the laws of the countries that they’re going to.
“We take for granted things like freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Students are surprised at the amount of freedom that they actually have in the U.S.”
Students cannot claim American citizenship abroad to avoid prosecution under another country’s laws. They can expect lengthy trials in a language that they cannot understand, lengthy prison terms and hard labor. In some countries, according to the Bureau of Consular affairs, one can even expect to be mistreated, have their trial delayed and spend a year in solitary confinement in “primitive conditions” before the judicial process starts to budge.
Shumaker also says that once a law is violated overseas, there is little an embassy can do to help.
“An embassy can act as a liaison,” Shumaker said. “An embassy can also give legal counseling. An embassy can’t give you immunity.”
The immunity she refers to is diplomatic immunity, made famous on television and in movies. The consul can notify family or friends of your situation, intercede with local law enforcement to make sure that you are being treated according to their laws, and protest any mistreatment.
“If a diplomat violates a law, they can claim diplomatic immunity,” she said. “Now, the U.S. has ways to get around that. They [diplomats] can have their visas canceled and sent back to their own country. People who aren’t diplomats can’t do this, though.”
Shumaker said students finding legal trouble on foreign soil is a major argument against study abroad. However, Shumaker sees study abroad as a means for students to learn not about other cultures, but to better appreciate their own.
– Chris Brennaman, The George-Anne (Georgia Southern U.)