T’Challa is a very busy new King of Wakanda in Captain America Civil War. While on a diplomatic mission to sign the Sokovia Accords in Vienna, a terrorist attack killed Prince T’Challa’s father, King T’Chaka. The young King T’Challa set out as the Black Panther to avenge his father’s death with the goal of killing James Buchanan Barnes, the suspect of the attack.

The Black Panther hunted and attacked Barnes in Germany, fought with the warring Avengers at the Berlin airport, and followed Iron Man from international airspace to Siberia. Could Germany and the Russian Federation prosecute King T’Challa for trying to avenge his father’s death within their countries?

There is no question that within Wakanda the doctrine of sovereign immunity, or in T’Challa’s case, crown immunity, would protect the King from any liability for his super-hero activities. However, when a King is conducting raids in another country, the doctrine that “the king can do no wrong” is turned sideways.

Wakandan attorneys could argue that King T’Challa’s actions as the Black Panther are protected by diplomatic immunity. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, based the concept of diplomatic immunity from the UN Charter, further the principles of “sovereign equality of States, the maintenance of international peace and security, and the promotion of friendly relations among nations.” USCS Vienna Diplomatic. The treaty specifically states that:

Believing that an international convention on diplomatic intercourse, privileges and immunities would contribute to the development of friendly relations among nations, irrespective of their differing constitutional and social systems, 

Realizing that the purpose of such privileges and immunities is not to benefit individuals but to ensure the efficient performance of the functions of diplomatic missions as representing States,

USCS Vienna Diplomatic.

In the event Wakanda signed the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, there is an argument for the actions in Germany, but it is problematic.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations is an agreement between countries to do exactly what its name says: Establish “diplomatic relations between States, and of permanent diplomatic missions, takes place by mutual consent.” USCS Vienna Diplomatic, Article 2.

Diplomatic missions consist of the following:

(a) Representing the sending State in the receiving State;

(b) Protecting in the receiving State the interests of the sending State and of its nationals, within the limits permitted by international law;

(c) Negotiating with the Government of the receiving State;

(d) Ascertaining by all lawful means conditions and developments in the receiving State, and reporting thereon to the Government of the sending State;

(e) Promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State, and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations.

USCS Vienna Diplomatic, Article 3.

King T’Chaka would have been the “head of the mission” representing Wakanda at the signing of the Sokovia Accords in Vienna. USCS Vienna Diplomatic, Article 1. Prince T’Challa would have been a “member of the mission.” Id. However, after King T’Chaka’s death, T’Challa would have been elevated to both head of state and the head of the mission. Going out to find James Buchanan Barnes arguably could fall under Article 3 of the Vienna Convention of diplomatic missions of, “protecting in the receiving State the interests of the sending State and of its nationals, within the limits permitted by international law.”

This is not a strong argument, as a world leader suiting up to physically capture a criminal suspect, is NOT a diplomatic mission envisioned by the treaty. It also smacks of individual motive of avenging a father and less of the state interest to seek justice for the fallen King. Moreover, it would run completely counter to the Sokovia Accords intent to approve all super-human activities.

The Black Panther engaging in activities that fall somewhere between law enforcement and espionage is one to give foreign governments pause. For example, in the United States diplomatic immunity is conditioned on the State Department being notified of foreign officials appointed by their government to diplomatic missions in the United States, pursuant to Article 10 of the Vienna Convention. Vulcan Iron Works, Inc. v Polish American Machinery Corp. (1979, SD NY) 479 F Supp 1060.

Wakanda did not notify the Federal Republic of Germany or the Russian Federation that T’Challa would enter their countries on a “diplomatic mission” to capture the suspect in the murder of King T’Chaka. As such, neither country likely would endorse the actions of the Black Panther, but neither would likely push the international incident. After all, who would think it is a good idea to prosecute a world leader trying to stop international terrorism? The leaders of Germany would look weak by comparison for their failure to capture Barnes; the Russians obvious to a secret HYDRA base with Winter Soldiers waiting to be activated. Neither are good PR days for press secretaries.

This raises an interesting question: would Putin not want to be outdone? Would he commission a bear costume, complete with red cape and Ushanka, and start calling himself Vlad-bear, to make himself look intimidating at summits?

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.