India’s diplomatic spat with Italy and the travel ban that Supreme Court has imposed on Rome’s ambassador have put the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations back into focus.
This international treaty was negotiated in the Austrian capital in 1961, but its central rules on rights and privileges of foreign envoys had been widely practiced for more than 200 years.
The convention says that persons working as diplomats are “inviolable” and can therefore not be arrested or detained.
Host nations must also protect diplomats from attacks on their freedom and dignity.
Although the text includes a guarantee of free travel inside the host country, no such freedom is spelled out for cross-border trips.
However, the convention includes another provision pointing to the importance of unhindered travel: Third countries are obliged to let diplomats pass through when they make trips to or from their station of duty.
In another key provision, the treaty says that foreign envoys cannot be prosecuted or punished by the host country for actions carried out in the line of duty.
It also makes clear that this immunity can only be waived by the diplomat’s home country, and only if this is done in an express manner.
In addition, the convention protects embassies from intrusion and guarantees that diplomats can communicate freely with their capitals.
It also gives host countries the right to expel envoys.