By Dr. Eugenio Matos G., Honorary Associate Publisher of Diplomat Magazine; Minister Counselor, Charge d’affaires a.i. of the Dominican Republic Embassy in The Hague.
If the States Parties of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations could have imagined in 1961 the international scene of 2013, many of its articles would never have been written as they were. The purpose of diplomatic privileges and immunities are not to benefit diplomats, but to ensure the efficient performance of their function. Some sections of the Convention are becoming partially impracticable, and this is not only an issue of legal interpretation but a daily reality due to international customs and swift changes in modern society as well.
It is imperative to bear in mind that customs make laws, but the latter can hardly create the former on the democratic scene. During the 80s, an envoy concentrated most of his time on representing his country, negotiating bilateral and multilateral issues with official authorities, and reporting to headquarters the conditions and developments of the country to which he was assigned. Government-to-government, embassy to ministry of foreign affairs dispatches, were the cornerstone of diplomatic practice. This is not the case anymore, except in particular circumstances. The Vienna Convention’s raison d’être is not visualized from the same premises from which it was originally conceived.
Differing customs, as well as a country’s needs, make the general application of the Convention difficult. States Parties may interpret this from the point of view of their national statutes, conditional to their Constitution, their national security, human rights issues and so forth.
Who could imagine in 1961 that a Head of a Diplomatic mission would have to pass through the struggle of an airport security process as they do now? Try to place yourself in the 60s or even in the 80s. Imagine that at ‘X’ international airport, you, a foreign Ambassador holding a diplomatic passport in due form, are ordered by a security officer to take off your shoes and jacket, and demanded to hand over your wallet, personal belongings, including your keys, pennies, and hat, to open your suitcase, to put aside your belt and, to finalize the process, you are asked to extend your arms and legs like a hockey player? The answer: A clear sign of declaration of war or a momentum for a serious bilateral diplomatic crisis.
France, Italy and Holland, just to mention a few, offer an illustration of novel interpretations of the Convention. While most countries do not accredit their nationals or landing immigrants as diplomats, these three States do in some extension. Indeed, it is subject to acceptable conditions, such as the lifting of certain diplomatic immunities and privileges. This is a state-of-the-art legal interpretation of the Vienna Convention.
Although Canada does not accredit their own nationals, they might very well be on their way. Few Canadian officials are aware that Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (the ministry) has created an interesting precedent, which I would call a ‘quasi accreditation’. In fall 2004, the Department sent a ‘Note verbale’ to a foreign diplomatic mission in Ottawa in the following terms: “Albeit Mrs. X holds a Canadian passport and cannot be accredited as a diplomat in Canada, this Department has no objection that Mrs. X performs her duties at your embassy but without using the diplomatic title of Minister Counselor and pays her federal and provincial taxes in Canada”.
Quai d’Orsay has, in recent years, accredited diplomats in Paris holding French passports, including ambassadors! A similar scenario happened in other countries, with the implementation of accreditation of national diplomats. Besides the CD or CC license-plate, a diplomat nowadays is hardly visible. Diplomatic privilege & immunity might be a cumbersome matter to define. Another interesting issue to discuss would be the odd situation that diplomats are facing in some countries, with regards to the vulnerability of their driving and parking privileges in the receiving State. Amen…
The author holds Civil law bachelor degrees in Canada and in the Dominican Republic, with Masters in Public Administration in England and diplomacy in Malta. He is currently accredited to the International Criminal Court, Alternate Representative to the OPCW in Den Haag and Commissioner in the Netherlands of the Dominican International Trade & Investment Agency (CEI-RD).