Vienna convention and the expulsion of diplomats

Vienna convention and the expulsion of diplomats
July 17 08:18 2021
Diplomat Correspondent

The declaration of diplomats as Persona Non-Grata has of late dominated the news. Recently, South Africa expelled diplomats from Malawi, Rwanda, Lesotho, Guinea and Burundi for flouting of diplomatic privileges.

In its statement the South African government said the decision was taken in line with the Vienna Convention of 1961.

“The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 is fundamental to the conduct of foreign relations and ensures that diplomats can conduct their duties without the threat of influence by the host government.

“However, in instances where such privileges are abused, the host country is obliged to take the necessary action in line with the Convention,” read SA government’s statement.

Diplomats can be “expelled” or declared Persona Non-Grata either when they do not comply with accepted behaviour or to send a political signal. Such a decision is made by the receiving state and does not require an explanation. Of late the expulsion of diplomats have also been used to express disapproval of another country’s actions.

By declaring a persona non grata, the receiving state can unilaterally terminate a diplomat’s functions in its territory. Following such a declaration, the sending state must recall this diplomat, who is then required to leave the country within a deadline set by the receiving state. The corresponding provisions are contained in Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

The receiving state sets a deadline by when a diplomat whom it has declared non grata must be recalled, and diplomatic law states further that this must happen “within a reasonable period”. Effectively, this is taken to mean that the deadline must be (at a minimum) 48 hours. The practice is therefore often also referred to as the “expulsion” of a diplomat.

The sending state has an obligation under international law to recall the diplomat who is no longer welcome within the deadline. Upon expiration of the deadline, the receiving state may refuse to recognise the person concerned as a member of the mission. This would revoke immunity in the receiving state for the diplomat who has been declared non grata, giving the national authorities access to him or her.

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