"... the purpose of ... privileges and immunities is not to benefit individuals but to ensure the efficient performance of the functions of diplomatic missions as representing States," / " ... of functions by consular posts on behalf of their respective States;" (Preambles of the VCDR, 1961 and of the VCCR, 1963)
Inviolability is applicable to persons and property.
Inviolability of Missions
Official premises (*), their furnishings and other contents therein, the mission’s archives (wherever they may be), the means of transport of the mission are, in principle, immune from search, requisition, legal attachment or execution.
However, 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.
Official correspondence is immune from requisition.
The archives and official documents of a consular post headed by an honorary consular officer are inviolable at any time and wherever they may be, provided that they are kept separate from other papers and documents and, in particular, from the private correspondence of the head of a consular post and of any person working with him, and from the materials, books or documents relating to their profession or trade (Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Article 61).
Diplomatic and consular bags should enable Governments to correspond with the Missions and the Missions to exchange correspondence in sealed bags. The bags, which may only contain correspondence, official documents or articles for official use, must bear visible external marks of their character together with the seal of the sending State (or of the Mission) to ensure bags are sealed inviolably.
Diplomatic and consular bags may not be opened, detained, controlled electronically or X-rayed. "Nevertheless, as regards the consular bag, if the competent authorities of the receiving State have serious reason to believe that the bag contains something other than the correspondence, documents or articles referred to [in the VCCR of 1963], they may request that the bag be opened in their presence by an authorized representative of the sending State." (VCCR, Article 35(3)., Vienna, 1963).
Diplomatic bags passing through a third state travel in the same conditions provided they are identifiable as such.
The employee or "courier" who carries the bag is provided with an official document certifying its diplomatic or consular character and guaranteeing its inviolability and that of the courier until he has delivered to the consignee the bag in his charge.
It must be clearly shown that the sender or the consignee of such bags is an Embassy or a consular post.
A diplomatic or consular bag may be entrusted to the captain of an aircraft, provided he has been furnished with an official document indicating the number of packages constituting the bag.
Inviolability of their agents
Agents Agents entitled to immunity:
puceoupas diplomatic agents
Diplomatic agents, the administrative and technical staff of an Embassy, as well as their families, enjoy full diplomatic privileges and immunities. They are thus not liable to arrest or detention.
Career consular officers are not liable to arrest or detention pending trial, except in the case of grave crime and pursuant only to a decision by the competent judicial authority - VCCR, 1963, Art.41(1). They shall not be committed to prison save in execution of a judicial decision of final effect - VCCR, 1963, Art.41(2).
The private residence of the diplomats and administrative and technical staff of an Embassy is not liable to any form of investigation on the part of any goverment service (police, customs, judicial authorities, etc.) save express authorization from the head of the diplomatic mission.
The personal luggage of diplomats, career consular officers and their families are exempt from Customs inspection unless there are serious grounds for believing that it contains articles not intended for the official use of the mission or their personal use, or articles the import or export of which is prohibited (in this case the inspection is carried out in the presence of the agent or of his/her authorized representative).
Honorary consular officers, Embassy administrative and technical staff and consular employees are not entitled to this exemption.
The documents, correspondence and private property of a diplomat or of a member of an Embassy’s administrative and technical staff are not liable to requisition save under exceptional circumstances, when an action is brought against him/her and when it relates to private immovable property situated on French territory, to a succession in which the diplomatic agent is involved as executor, administrator, heir or legatee, or to any professional or commercial activity exercised in France outside his/her official functions - VCDR, 1961, Art.31(1).
Career consular officers are not entitled to this exemption.
Updated : July 2012