By Jose David Arya Navarro - Student of International Relations
International law is always a controversial topic, especially when it comes to how effective it is. Diplomatic law isn’t an exception, that’s why this article would discuss its efficacy in terms of diplomats’ protection. To develop a comprehensible analysis, it’s important to mention that it would be based on the protection of the premises where the diplomats spend their time and their families. Also, the source for the analysis would be the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR) which is the most important treaty in regards to diplomatic law.
The Cambridge Dictionary (2021) defines “protect” as “to keep someone or something safe from injury, damage, or loss”. Under this definition, it is possible to establish the participation of two actors, the one that protects and the one protected. In a real case, these characters would be the receiving state and the diplomats respectively. So, the convention is pretty clear on defining a safe space for these special visitors, article 22 says that “The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.” (VCDR, 1961). This means that no one is allowed to enter into the property of the diplomatic mission without permission, which under the law seems like a very effective and restrictive measure to ensure people’s security. However, history has shown otherwise.
One case to exemplify this is what happened in 2004 in Costa Rica when a police officer attacked the Chilean embassy. As Pardo (2004) explains, the officers responding to the attack couldn’t respond to the emergency as they wanted because they had to respect article 22 of the Convention to avoid a political conflict with Chile. In the end, this inconclusive event ended up with 4 people dead, 3 murders, one suicide, and hundreds of doubts. Looking at the timeline of this event it’s almost impossible not to think about how this article should be reform for the safety of people working there. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2021) establishes that “in the event of a fire or any other accident on the premises of a consular post that require immediate protective measures, approval of such measures by the head of the consular post shall be taken for granted.” taking a step forward in this aspect of protection in emergencies.
Another aspect of the protection analysis comes in two articles as the VCDR (1961) states. First, article 30 says that the private residence of the diplomat is subject to inviolability and article 37 establishes that the diplomat and their family (under the convention’s definition) are entitled to immunity and the same privileges. It’s important to highlight how these articles consider family protection, first in a legal sense and second by giving them a place to be safe too. This shows interest from the law in the general welfare of the diplomats and their families. However, as it was explained before that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be harmed at any time under uncontrollable circumstances.
In conclusion, answering if diplomatic law protects diplomats is complicated. Based on the situations and the articles used in this paper, one could say that the concept of protection is subjective. In this work, it was analyzed through a physical safety lens, in which the Convention does present strong elements to attain this objective. However, due to the nature of the work and other elements like the location of the diplomatic mission, other risks may or may not turn the protection issue into an impossible goal. So based on this, the diplomatic law protects the international representatives, but they are exposed to events that cannot be controlled by the receiving states that may end up putting their lives in danger. Still, there’s always room for improvement and reforms to the current statutes.
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Cambridge Dictionary. (2021). Protect. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/es/diccionario/ingles/protect
French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (2021). Inviolability. https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/the-ministry-and-its-network/protocol/immunities/article/inviolability
Pardo, A. (2004). El ataque que golpeó a la embajada. https://www.nacion.com/revista-dominical/el-ataque-que-golpeo-a-la-embajada/XBCN3EGUJFCHTEEJIFWET7MJWY/story/
VCDR. (1961). Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961. https://legal.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/9_1_1961.pdf