Arrest of a U.S. Citizen

While in Djibouti, U.S. citizens are subject to its laws and regulations. Persons violating the law in Djibouti, even unknowingly, may be fined, arrested, and/or deported. If detained, a U.S. citizen will have to go through the Djiboutian legal process of being charged, prosecuted, and possibly convicted and sentenced. It is important to keep in mind that the legal process in Djibouti can differ significantly from the one in the United States and may not provide the same protections available in the United States.

The Embassy’s Role

When notified of the arrest of an American Citizen, U.S. Embassy Consular staff will attempt to visit the American as soon as possible. The U.S. Embassy provide a wide variety of services to U.S. citizens arrested abroad and their families; however, they cannot interfere in the Djiboutian judicial process.  A U.S. passport does not entitle its bearer to any special privileges.

Upon learning of a U.S. citizen’s arrest, an officer from the Embassy visits the citizen to inform them of their right to legal counsel, to furnish a list of attorneys, and to obtain personal data which will assist the Embassy in communicating with family or friends who may be able to provide assistance.

  • The Embassy can telephone the accused’s attorney on behalf of the accused. We cannot provide legal counsel or advice, or pay for an attorney. We do maintain a list of lawyers who can be hired to assist in criminal matters. 
  • The Embassy can contact relatives or friends to notify them of the citizen’s situation and to request financial assistance. We cannot perform errands for the purchase of items outside the prison system.
  • The Embassy can communicate with the relatives or friends about the citizen’s well-being. We cannot convey non-emergency messages or requests to relatives or friends.
  • The Embassy can ensure that the citizen is receiving fair treatment by the authorities consistent with that granted Djiboutian residents. We cannot intervene with due process of law.

The U.S. Privacy Act

The Privacy Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-579) was enacted to protect U.S. citizens against unauthorized release of information about them by the government. If an arrested citizen would like the Embassy to notify their family or friends about their arrest they must first give us written permission to do so.

The Embassy will not inform any person of an arrest without the individual’s permission. Even if family or friends find out by other means, we will be unable to discuss a case without the individual’s permission.

An individual can give the Embassy permission to contact people by signing a Privacy Act Waiver (PAW). Here is a sample copy (DS-5505: Authorization for the Release of Information Under the Privacy Act) (PDF 119 KB).

These files are maintained primarily for the purpose of providing protection and assistance to American citizens abroad and not for law enforcement purposes. While there is no automatic or mandatory dissemination of information in consular files to other agencies, we can release specific information to other agencies that have a legitimate interest in such data. Therefore, for legitimate law enforcement purposes in the U.S., the appropriate law enforcement agency in the U.S. may be notified.

Nonetheless, American citizens arrested overseas are not liable for prosecution for the same crime upon their return to the U.S. unless they are also wanted for an offense committed in the United States.