The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 is an international treaty that defines a framework for diplomatic relations between independent countries. It specifies the privileges of a diplomatic mission that enable diplomats to perform their function without fear of coercion or harassment by the host country. This forms the legal basis for diplomatic immunity. Its articles are considered a cornerstone of modern international relations. It has been ratified by 186 countries. The 1961 UN Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations will mark its 50th anniversary in April 2011.
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Throughout the history of sovereign nations, diplomats have enjoyed a special status. Their function to negotiate agreements between states demands certain special privileges. An envoy from another nation is traditionally treated as a guest, their communications with their home nation treated as confidential, and their freedom from coercion and subjugation by the host nation treated as essential.
The first attempt to codify diplomatic immunity into diplomatic law occurred with the Congress of Vienna in 1815. This was followed much later by the Convention regarding Diplomatic Officers (Havana, 1928).
The present treaty on the treatment of diplomats was the outcome of a draft by the International Law Commission. The treaty was adopted on April 18, 1961, by the United Nations Conference on Diplomatic Intercourse and Immunities held in Vienna, Austria, and first implemented on April 24, 1964. The same Conference also adopted the Optional Protocol concerning Acquisition of Nationality, the Optional Protocol concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes, the Final Act and four resolutions annexed to that Act.
Two years later, the United Nations adopted a closely related treaty, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
Summary of provisions
The treaty is an extensive document, containing 53 articles. Following is a basic overview of its key provisions. For a comprehensive enumeration of all articles, consult the original text.
* Article 22. The premises of a diplomatic mission, such as an embassy, are inviolate and must not be entered by the host country except by permission of the head of the mission. Furthermore, the host country must protect the mission from intrusion or damage. The host country must never search the premises, nor seize its documents or property. Article 30 extends this provision to the private residence of the diplomats.
* Article 27. The host country must permit and protect free communication between the diplomats of the mission and their home country. A diplomatic bag must never be opened even on suspicion of abuse. A diplomatic courier must never be arrested or detained.
* Article 29. Diplomats must not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. They are immune from civil or criminal prosecution, though the sending country may waive this right under Article 32. Under Article 34, they are exempt from most taxes, and under Article 36 they are exempt from most customs duties.
* Article 37. The family members of a diplomat that are living in the host country enjoy most of the same protections as the diplomats themselves.
* Article 9. The host nation may at any time and for any reason declare a particular member of the diplomatic staff to be persona non grata. The sending state must recall this person within a reasonable period of time, or otherwise this person may lose their diplomatic immunity.
Abuse of Diplomatic immunity
Main article: Raymond-davis-blackwater-diplomat
In the same year that the treaty was adopted, two amendment protocols were added. Countries may ratify the main treaty without necessarily ratifying these optional agreements.
* Concerning acquisition of nationality. The head of the mission, the staff of the mission, and their families, shall not acquire the nationality of the receiving country.
* Concerning compulsory settlement of disputes. Disputes arising from the interpretation of this treaty may be brought before the International Court of Justice.
State parties to the convention
States ratified the convention
There are 187 state parties, where the convention is ratified.
The states neither signed nor ratified the convention are: Antigua and Barbuda, Brunei, Cook Islands, Gambia, Niue, Palau, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and the states with limited recognition.