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Explained: What is diplomatic and consular immunity

Saturday, 21 December 2013 - 10:00pm IST Updated: Saturday, 21 December 2013 - 10:04pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA Web Team

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 is an international treaty, accepted by 189 states till date, that defines a guideline for diplomatic relations between numerous independent countries. It specifies the privileges of a diplomatic mission that enable the diplomats to perform their diplomatic functions without the fear of any legal trouble or harassment from the host country. This forms the legal basis for the diplomatic immunity. The articles of the Vienna Convention are considered as a cornerstone for modern international relations.

According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 (VCDR), diplomatic immunity is granted to only certain individuals depending on their rank and the amount of immunity they require to carry out their official duties without legal harassment from the host nation. Diplomatic immunity allows foreign representatives to work in host countries without fully understanding the customs of that country. However, diplomats are expected to respect and follow the laws and regulations of their host countries. 

Article 31 of the Convention exempts diplomatic agents from the civil and criminal jurisdictions of host states, except for cases in which a diplomatic agent (1) is involved in a dispute over personal real property, (2) has an action involving private estate matters or (3) is in a dispute arising from commercial or professional business outside the scope of official functions. 

The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 (VCCR) is an international treaty that defines the guidelines for consular relations between the independent countries. A consul normally operates out of an embassy in a different country, and performs two functions: (1) protecting the interests of the country and the countrymen of the consul, and (2) furthering the commercial and economic relations between the two countries. While a consul is not a diplomat, they work out of the same premises, and under this treaty they are afforded most of the same privileges, including a variation of diplomatic immunity called consular immunity. This treaty has been accepted by 176 countries.

Consular immunity offers protections similar to the diplomatic immunity, but these protections are not as extensive, given the functional differences between consular and diplomatic officers. For example, consular officers are not given absolute immunity from a host country’s criminal jurisdiction (they may be tried for certain local crimes upon action by a local court) and are immune from local jurisdiction only in cases directly relating to their consular functions.

Inputs from: Legal Zoom, eDiplomat, US Diplomacy




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