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Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations

Context: The Government of India has recently summoned the Deputy High Commissioner of UK under the obligations of Vienna Convention.

Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations Background

  • Recently, a group of pro-Khalistani protestors removed the Indian flag at the Indian High Commission in London.
  • Pro-Khalistani protesters also attacked and damaged the Indian Consulates in San Francisco and Brisbane while openly threatening the Indian Ambassadors there.
  • Opposing attacks on Indian diplomats, the Government of India has summoned the “senior-most” UK diplomat under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Khalistan Movement

  • The Khalistan movement is a fight for a separate, sovereign Sikh state in present day Punjab (both India and Pakistan).
  • The movement was crushed in India following Operation Blue Star (1984) and Operation Black Thunder (1986 and 1988).
  • But the movement continues to evoke sympathy and support among sections of the Sikh population, especially in countries such as Canada, the UK, and Australia.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations

  • Adoption: The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations was adopted in 1961 by the United Nations Conference on Diplomatic Intercourse and Immunities held in Vienna, Austria.
    • The successful adoption of this Convention is hailed as the ‘landmark of the highest significance in the codification of international law’.
  • Exceptions: It came into force on April 24, 1964 and is nearly universally ratified, with Palau and South Sudan being the exceptions.
  • Framework: It provides a complete framework for the establishment, maintenance and termination of diplomatic relations on a basis of consent between independent sovereign States.
  • Conduct of Duties: It is fundamental to the conduct of foreign relations and ensures that diplomats can conduct their duties without threat of influence by the host government.
  • Inviolability: It affirms the concept of “inviolability” of a diplomatic mission, which has been one of the enduring cornerstones of international diplomacy.
    • Inviolability means the quality of being safe or protected from attack, infringement, destruction, or interference.
  • Functions: It explains the functions of a diplomatic mission, including representing the State, protecting the State, promoting friendly relations between the sending and receiving State.
  • Security responsibility: The security of any High Commission or Embassy is the responsibility of the host nation.
    • While diplomatic missions can also employ their own security, ultimately, the host nation is accountable for security.
  • Diplomatic Immunity: The Convention codifies the longstanding custom of diplomatic immunity.
    • Under this, the diplomatic missions are granted privileges that enable diplomats to perform their functions without fear of coercion or harassment by the host country.

The Concept of Diplomatic Immunity

  • Concept: A principle of international law that provides foreign diplomats with protection from legal action in the country in which they work.
  • Features: It allows diplomats safe passage and freedom of travel in a host country and accords almost total protection from local lawsuits and prosecution.
  • Diplomatic Immunity in India: The concept of diplomatic immunity can be found in ancient Indian epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, where messengers and diplomats were given immunity from capital punishment.
    • In Arthashastra, Kautilya’s rule relating to diplomatic relations has been based on the doctrine of Sama-dana-bheda-danda (persuasion, gifts, division and threat of force).

Obligations of the Receiving State under Vienna Convention

  • As per the Vienna Convention, a “receiving State” refers to the host nation where a diplomatic mission is located.
  • Article 9: The host State can prohibit a member of the Sending state (persona non grata) from entering or remaining in the host State. The host State can expel the envoys.
    • This person could be the head of mission, member of the diplomatic staff, or any other member of the mission.
  • Article 22: It confirms the inviolability of mission premises.
    •  It bars the enforcement officers of the host State from searching the premises of the diplomatic mission and seizing its property or documents.
    •  Diplomatic bags may not be opened or detained.
    • The host State has a special duty to protect the premises of the diplomatic mission against intrusion, damage, disturbance of the peace or infringement of dignity.
  • Article 27: The host State shall permit and protect free communication of the mission for official purposes.
  • Article 29: Diplomatic members are not subject to any form of detention or arrest.
  • Article 31: Diplomats are exempt from the criminal, civil and administrative jurisdiction of the host State.
    • It is possible for the diplomat’s home country to waive immunity but this can happen only when the individual has committed a ‘serious crime’.

Challenges to Vienna Convention

  • Less Respect for Laws: Diplomats, their family, and consular officials have increasingly paid less respect for laws and regulations of the receiving states.
  • Diplomatic Crimes: The crimes committed by diplomats are drunk driving, assault, child abuse, possession of deadly weapons, bribery, slavery, money laundering, rape and even murder.
  • Crime against Women: Individuals from low-income countries, especially women, working as domestic employees in the residences of diplomats, have been subjected to abuses.

India and Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations

  • India acceded to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in 1965.
  • India has enacted the Diplomatic Relations (Vienna Convention) Act, 1972 to give effect to the Vienna Convention.

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