Explained | Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations

Vienna Convention
It has become an almost universally adopted Convention with 193 states party to it. Photo: AFP

Canada has withdrawn 41 diplomats and their family members from India after it threatened to strip them of their diplomatic immunity by October 20.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that India’s decision to revoke the diplomatic immunity of diplomats is a violation of the Vienna Convention.

The United States also expressed concern over the departure of Canadian diplomats from India.

India rejected Canada’s attempt to portray the withdrawal of 41 of Canadian diplomats from the country as a violation of international norms.

The ministry of external affairs (MEA) asserted that ensuring two-way diplomatic parity is fully consistent with the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Why India took this action?

• Last month, India asked Canada to withdraw 41 of its diplomats from the country after a diplomatic row erupted between the two sides following Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s allegation linking Indian agents to the killing of Khalistani separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June. India strongly rejected the charges.

• The MEA said the state bilateral relations, the much higher number of Canadian diplomats in India, and their continued interference in India’s internal affairs warranted a parity in mutual diplomatic presence in New Delhi and Ottawa. 

• The MEA said it has been engaged with the Canadian side on the issue over the last month in order to work out the details and modalities to ensure implementation of parity in diplomatic presence.

• Our actions in implementing this parity are fully consistent with Article 11.1 of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, the MEA said.

• Article 11.1 of the Vienna Convention says: In the absence of specific agreement as to the size of the mission, the receiving State may require that the size of a mission be kept within limits considered by it to be reasonable and normal, having regard to circumstances and conditions in the receiving State and to the needs of the particular mission.

Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations

• The United Nations Conference on Diplomatic Intercourse and Immunities adopted the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations on April 18, 1961. It came into effect from April 24, 1964.

• It outlines the rules of diplomatic law. 

• The Convention codifies the rules for the exchange and treatment of envoys between countries. 

• It provides a complete framework for the establishment, maintenance and termination of diplomatic relations on a basis of consent between independent sovereign States. 

• It specifies the functions of diplomatic missions, the formal rules regulating appointments, declarations of ‘persona non grata’ of a diplomat who has in some way given offence, and precedence among heads of mission. 

• It has become an almost universally adopted Convention with 193 states party to it.

• The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations is fundamental to the conduct of foreign relations and ensures that diplomats can conduct their duties without threat of influence by the host government. 

• Diplomats are the personal representatives of their countries, and can therefore be the targets of aggression when the receiving state disagrees with the sending state’s policies. 

The Convention establishes the following:

i) Rules for the appointment of foreign representatives.

ii) The inviolability of mission premises.

iii) Protection for the diplomat and his/her family from any form of arrest or detention.

iv) Protection of all forms of diplomatic communication.

v) The basic principle of exemption from taxation.

vi) Immunity from civil and administrative jurisdiction, with limited exceptions.

vii) That diplomats must respect the laws of the host state.

• The rules are intended to facilitate the development of friendly relations among nations, irrespective of their differing constitutional and social systems. 

• The purpose of such privileges and immunities is not to benefit individuals, but to ensure the efficient performance of the functions of diplomatic missions.

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