is that area of international law
that governs permanent
and temporary diplomatic
fundamental concept of diplomatic law is that of diplomatic immunity
, which derives from
Key elements of diplomatic law are the immunity of diplomatic
staff, the inviolability of the diplomatic mission and its grounds,
and the security of diplomatic correspondence and diplomatic bags.
cases involving the breaking of diplomatic laws includes the Iran
hostage crisis in 1979, the shooting of a British police woman from
the Libyan Embassy in London in 1984, and
the discovery of a former Nigerian Minister in
a diplomatic crate at Stansted airport in 1984.
It is also an accepted principle of customary international law and
is recognised between countries as a matter of practicality.
Diplomatic law is often strictly adhered to by states because it
works on reciprocity. For example, if you expel diplomats from a
certain country, then your diplomats will most likely be expelled
from this country. It is in this way that diplomatic relations
between states, and government to government interaction, can
Sources of diplomatic law
For most of history diplomatic law has mostly been customary.
However, early codifications of diplomatic law include the British
Diplomatic Privileges Act (1708). An important treaty with regards
to diplomatic law is the 1961 Vienna Convention on
. Questions not expressly regulated by the
Convention continue to be governed by the rules of customary international
The most fundamental rule of diplomatic law is that the person of a
diplomatic agent is inviolable. Diplomats may not be detained or
arrested, and enjoy complete immunity from criminal prosecution
in the receiving
state, although there is no immunity from the jurisdiction of the
The only remedy the host state has in the face of offences alleged
to have been committed by a diplomat is to declare him or her
persona non grata
for example, an attaché of the Russian Embassy
in Washington DC was declared persona non grata for
suspected "bugging" of the
The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes
against Internationally Protected Persons, Including Diplomatic
was adopted in 1973. It provides that states parties
must make attacks upon diplomats a crime in internal law, and
obliges them to extradite or prosecute offenders. However, in
exceptional cases, a diplomat may be arrested or detained on the
basis of self-defence or in the interests of protecting human life
The private residence, papers, correspondence and property of
diplomats are also inviolable. In general, diplomats are immune
from civil and administrative jurisdiction of the state in which
they are serving, although there are a number of important
Waiver of immunity
Although it is unusual, the sending state may expressly waive the
immunity from jurisdiction of diplomatic agents and others
It is an absolute rule that the premises of the mission are
inviolable and agents of the receiving state cannot enter them
without the consent of the mission.
The receiving state is under a special duty to protect the mission
premises from intrusion or damage or "impairment of its dignity".
By the same token, the premises of a mission must not be used in a
way which is incompatible with the functions of the mission.
The receiving state is required to permit and protect free
communication on behalf of the mission for all official purposes.
Such official communication is inviolable and may include the use
of diplomatic couriers and messages in code and in cipher, although
the consent of the receiving state is required for a wireless
There is no right under international law to diplomatic relations,
and they exist by virtue of mutual consent. The sending state must
ensure that the consent of the receiving state has been given for
its proposed head of mission
Similarly, the receiving state may at any time declare any member
of the diplomatic mission persona
and thus obtain the removal of that
A right of diplomatic asylum is not established in international
law. The International Court of Justice has emphasised that in the
absence of treaty or customary rules to the contrary, a decision by
a mission to grant asylum involves a derogation from the
sovereignty of the receiving state.
- Article 29, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic
- Articles 31(4), Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
- Articles 30(1), (2), Vienna Convention on Diplomatic
- Article 2, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. See for
example 767 Third Avenue Associates v. Permanent Mission of the
Republic of Zaire to the United Nations 988 F.2d 295 (1993);
99 ILR, p. 194.
- Article 41(3), Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
- Article 2, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
- Article 4.
- Article 9.
Eileen Denza, Diplomatic Law: Commentary on the Vienna
Convention on Diplomatic Relations
(Oxford: Oxford University