The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations was adopted in 1961 and has become since then one of the most important international documents regulating international relations and diplomacy; as of today, most countries in the world have signed the Convention. The most important idea of the treaty is that diplomats possess certain immunities and privileges in their work in host countries, and the document specifies these special rights. Apart from diplomatic immunity itself, four more important concepts can be identified in the text of the convention: communication, premises’ status, taxation, and diplomats’ families.
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First of all, the fundamental aspect of diplomatic immunity is that, according to Article 29, “[t]he person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable…[and] shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention.” For centuries, diplomats have enjoyed a special status in host countries, and their right to inviolability has been recognized; the Convention, however, established this principle as a rule, and every signing country was obliged to incorporate the provision into its national legislation. Moreover, Article 29 requires host states not only to ensure that a diplomat is not prosecuted but also to protect his or her freedom and dignity.
Another important concept is diplomatic communication. It is recognized in the Convention that part of diplomats’ work is freely communicating with their sending countries, which is why a host country should undertake to permit and protect free communication between diplomats and governments of sending states. Diplomats have the right to convey messages in code or cipher; receiving countries do not have the right to seize or open diplomatic documentation. However, if a diplomatic mission wants to use a wireless transmitter, it can only be done upon receiving permission from the host country.
Also, a special status is granted to the premises of a diplomatic mission. Article 22 establishes that representatives of a receiving state can enter the premises only upon receiving permission from the head of the mission. Therefore, the premises cannot be searched by the receiving country’s authorities either. However, since the premises are in the territory of a receiving state, the receiving state undertakes to properly protect them “against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.”
Further, it is recognized in the Convention that a diplomatic agent should be exempt from the receiving country’s dues, including taxes. However, Article 34 lists cases in which the exemption is not applicable. For example, if a diplomat holds property in the receiving state, and the property is not held on behalf of the sending state, he or she is subject to regular taxation. Also, if a diplomat personally receives services in the host country, appropriate taxes can be imposed, as diplomatic immunity is not applicable to such cases.
Overall, diplomatic agents enjoy a special status in terms of their dues as long as they act on behalf of sending countries; when acting on their own in a receiving country, diplomats may not enjoy this special status.
Finally, the Convention recognizes that not only members of diplomatic missions have the rights to immunities and privileges but also members of their families. Therefore, diplomats’ spouses, children, and other relatives who stay in the receiving country shall be protected by this country and exempted from certain dues as if they were diplomats themselves. Same rules apply to technical and service staff of diplomatic missions.
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