Summary on the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961

 

In terms of near-universal participation by sovereign States, the high degree of observance among States parties and the influence it has had on the international legal order, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations may claim to be the most successful of the instruments drawn up under the United Nations framework for codification and progressive development of international law. Its success is due not only to the excellence of the preparatory work by the International Law
— Eileen Denza, Professor of International Law http://legal.un.org/avl/ha/vcdr/vcdr.html

Below is a basic summary of the convention. The full convention can be found hereI have highlighted in bold articles that are particularly worth noting.

Key facts: 53 articles to the Convention. 60 signatories. 191 parties to the convention. The Convention was adopted on 14 April 1961 by the United Nations Conference on Diplomatic Intercourse and Immunities held at the Neue Hofburg in Vienna, Austria, from 2 March to 14 April 1961.

  • Article 1 – Ascribes the meanings of the words used in the treaty.
  • Article 2 – Diplomatic relations are of mutual consent.
  • Article 3 – Explains the functions of a diplomatic mission, including representing the State, protecting the State, promoting friendly relations between the sending and receiving State.
  • Article 4 – Agreement by the receiving State must be made for the appointment of the head of mission for the sending State. The receiving State is not obliged to give a reason for the refusal of the agreement.
  • Article 5 – Head of mission acts as a representative to the sending State.
  • Article 6 – Two or more States may accredit the same person as the head of mission, unless there is an objection by either State.
  • Article 7 – Sending State may freely appoint members of their mission. The receiving State is permitted to request the names for approval of the sending State’s military, naval or air attaches.
  • Article 8 – Diplomatic staff of the sending State should be the nationality of that state. Diplomatic staff of the sending State cannot be the same nationality as the receiving State, or a different nationality to the sending State, except with the consent of the receiving State.
  • Article 9 – The receiving State can at any time, without giving reasons, prohibit a member of the Sending state (persona non grata) from entering or remaining in the receiving State. This person could be the head of mission, member of the diplomatic staff, or any other member of the mission. The sending State shall either recall the person or terminate the duties of the person. If the sending State refuses to carry out this obligation, the receiving State may refuse to recognise the person as a member of the mission.
  • Article 10 - The receiving State will be notified:
    • Of the members of the sending States’ mission, including their arrival and departure.
    • Of the family members of the sending State’s mission, including their arrival, departure, and cessation of being a family member.
    • Of private servants employed by members of the sending State’s mission, including their arrival and departure.
    • Of residents in the receiving State charged and discharged as private servants or members to the sending State’s mission.
  • Article 11 – The size of the sending State’s mission should be reasonable, taking into account the needs of the mission, unless specific agreements are in place. The receiving State may refuse to accept officials of a particular category.
  • Article 12 – The sending State may not establish offices in areas other than those where the mission is established, unless they have express consent of the receiving State.
  • Article 13 – The head of the mission start is permitted to start duties and functions once the person’s credentials have been shown to the receiving State.
  • Article 14 – Heads of missions are divided into three classes:
    • Ambassadors accredited to Heads of State
    • Envoys and ministers accredited to Heads of State
    • Charge d’affaires accredited to Ministers of Foreign Affairs.
  • Article 15 – The class of the head of the mission shall be agreed between States.
  • Article 16 – The heads of mission shall take precedence depending on class and in the order of the date and time of taking up their functions.
  • Article 17 – The precedence of the diplomatic staff of the sending State will be informed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the receiving State by the head of the mission.
  • Article 18 - Irrespective of the class of the head of the mission, the receiving States reception of that person will be the same.
  • Article 19 – If the head of the mission is vacant or unable to perform duties, there shall be an interim charge d’affaires to act provisionally. The name of that person will be notified to the receiving State by either the current head of the mission or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the sending state. If there are no diplomatic staff present, a member of the administrative or technical staff will be designated by the sending State to be in charge of administrative affairs of the mission, if consented by the receiving State.
  • Article 20 – The sending State may use their flag and emblem on the premises of their mission, which also includes the residence and transport of the head of the mission.
  • Article 21 – The receiving State shall assist the Sending state in securing premises necessary for its mission or secure accommodation in some other way. The receiving State shall also assist members of the sending state’s mission in securing accommodation if necessary.
  • Article 22 – The receiving state may not enter the sending State’s premises unless the head of the sending state mission has consented to it. The receiving State is under special duty to protect the premises of the mission of intrusion, damage, disturbance of the peace and impairment of its dignity. The premises of the mission and means of transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.
  • Article 23 – The sending State and head of the mission shall be exempt from all national, regional or municipal dues and taxes in respect to the premises of the mission.
  • Article 24 – The archives and documents of the mission shall be inviolable at all times and wherever they may be.
  • Article 25 – The receiving State shall accord full facilities for the function of the sending State’s mission.
  • Article 26 – Receiving State shall ensure all members of the mission have freedom of movement and travel in the territory, with the exception of zones that are prohibited for reasons of national security subject to laws and regulations.
  • Article 27 – Receiving State shall permit and protect free communication of the mission for official purposes. The mission may employ all appropriate means including diplomatic couriers and messages in code or in cipher. The mission may only install and use a wireless transmitter only with the consent of the receiving state. Official correspondence is inviolable. Diplomatic bags may not be opened or detained. Diplomatic bags must be bear externally visible marks. Diplomatic bags can only contain articles and documents for official use. The diplomatic courier shall be protected by the receiving State in the performance of their functions. The diplomatic courier shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. Immunities of a diplomatic courier shall cease once the diplomatic bag has been delivered. A diplomatic bag may be given to the captain of a commercial aircraft to land at an authorised port of entry. The captain will be given an official document indicating the number of packages constituting the bag. The captain will not be considered a diplomatic courier.
  • Article 28 – Fees and charges incurred by the mission in the course of official duties shall be exempt from all taxes.
  • Article 29 – Diplomatic members are not subject to any form of detention or arrest. The receiving State shall treat the member with respect, and will take necessary steps to prevent from any attack on freedom or dignity.
  • Article 30 – The private residence of a diplomatic agent enjoys the same protection as the premises of the mission. The agent’s papers, documents, articles, correspondence shall enjoy the same protection.
  • Article 31 – A diplomatic agent is not obliged to give evidence as a witness. Immunity of a diplomatic agent in the receiving State does not mean the person is exempt from the jurisdiction of the sending State. Diplomatic agents have immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State. Diplomatic agents also have immunity from civil and administrative jurisdiction, with the exceptions being:
    • An action related to private immovable property of the receiving State, unless it is in purpose of the mission.
    • Matters concerning succession, such as executor, administrator, heir, legatee as a private person and not on behalf of the sending State.
    • Matters concerning professional or commercial activity in the receiving State outside of official function.
  • Article 32 – Immunity of jurisdiction of the receiving State may be waived by the sending State. The waiver must be made expressly clear.
  • Article 33 – Diplomatic agents are exempt from social security provisions in the receiving State. Exemptions also apply for private servants employed by diplomatic agents.
  • Article 34 – Diplomatic agents are exempt from all taxes, national, regional or municipal except (inter alia): taxes incorporated in goods and services, taxes on private immovable property situated in the receiving State, unless it is held by the agent for the purposes of the mission, estate, inheritance or succession duties.
  • Article 35 – Diplomatic agents are exempt from all personal services and all public service of any kind in the receiving State.
  • Article 36 – Entry of all articles in the receiving State is exempt from all customs duties, taxes and related charges on articles for official use of the mission and on articles for the personal use of the diplomat or members of family forming part of the household. The personal baggage of the diplomatic agent shall be exempt from inspection, unless there are serious grounds that it may contain articles not for the official use of the mission, personal use of the diplomat or articles prohibited by law. Such inspection should only take place in the presence of the diplomatic agent or authorised representative.
  • Article 37 – Family members of a diplomatic agent and members of administrative or technical staff of the mission living in the same household also have immunities and privileges, except if they are the same nationality (or permanent residents) as the receiving State. Members of service staff of the mission, who are not nationals (or permanent residents) of the receiving State, shall also enjoy immunity in acts performed in the course of their duties, and exemption from dues and taxes on emoluments. Private servants of members of the mission, who are not nationals (or permanent residents) of the receiving State are exempt from dues and taxes on the emoluments they receive. Private servants of members of the mission may enjoy privileges and immunities only to the extent admitted by the receiving state.
  • Article 38 – A diplomatic agent may only enjoy immunities in respect to official acts performed in the exercise of duties. Other members of staff of the mission and private servants of the mission may enjoy immunities admitted by the receiving state.
  • Article 39 – Those entitled to immunities and privileges are valid from the moment the person enters the receiving State, or if notified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the sending State. Privileges and immunities normally cease when the functions of the person comes to an end. In the occurrence of a death of a member of the mission, members of that person’s family shall continue to have immunity and privileges until the expiry of a reasonable period. In the occurrence of a death of a member of the mission, the receiving state shall permit the withdrawal of the property of the deceased.
  • Article 40 – If a diplomatic agent passes through a third country in the performance of duties, with a passport (and granted visa if necessary), the third state shall grant immunities to ensure transit or return. The same shall apply to family members of the diplomatic agent. The third state shall not hinder the passage in service of the mission. This same freedom also applies to official correspondence, diplomatic couriers and diplomatic bags in transit.
  • Article 41 – It is the duty of the one receiving immunities and privileges to respect the laws of the receiving state. It is also their duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that state. The premises of the mission must not be used for any other purpose than those outlined in this treaty, or by other rules of international law.
  • Article 42 – A diplomatic agent in the receiving State shall not practice for personal profit any professional or commercial activity.
  • Article 43 – The function of a diplomatic agent comes to an end when the sending State notify the receiving State or (as explained in article 9) the receiving state refuse to recognise the diplomatic agent as a member of the mission.
  • Article 44 – The receiving State must, even in times of armed conflict, grant those having immunities and privileges be facilitated to leave at the earliest possible moment. In the case of need, availability of means of transport for themselves and property must be made. 
  • Article 45 – If diplomatic relations are broken off between two States, or if a mission is temporarily or permanently recalled:
    • The receiving State must respect and protect the premises of the mission, even in times of armed conflict.
    • The sending State may entrust the custody of the premises to a third state that is acceptable to the receiving state.
    • The sending State may entrust the protection of its nationals in the receiving state to a third state, provided that it is agreed by the receiving state.
  • Article 46 – A mission not represented in a State may request the sending State temporary protection of its nationals in the receiving State, provided that consent is given by the receiving State.
  • Article 47 – The receiving State shall not discriminate between States. Discrimination shall not be regarded as taking place if the receiving State restrictively applies the provisions of the treaty because of the restrictive application in that State’s mission in the sending State. It also shall not be regarded as taking place if agreement between States allows each other more favourable treatment than is required in the convention.
  • Article 48 – The convention is open for signature by all member States of the United Nations or any specialised agencies parties to the Statute of the International Court of Justice, and by any other State invited by the General Assembly of the United Nations to become a party to the convention.
  • Article 49 – The convention is subject to ratification.
  • Article 50 – The convention shall remain open for accession.
  • Article 51 – The convention shall enter into force on the 13th day following the date of deposit of the 22nd instrument of ratification or accession with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
  • Article 52 – The United Nations Secretary-General shall inform all States of signatures and ratifications to the present convention, and of the date they will enter into force.
  • Article 53 – The Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish texts of the convention are equally authentic, which shall be deposited at the United Nations, who will send certified copies to all States. Convention done on the 18th April 1961.