Vienna Convention on Consular Relations
Vienna, 24 April 1963
  •  Introductory Note 
  •  Procedural History 
  •  Documents 
  •  Status 
  •  Photo 
By Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo
Deputy Foreign Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mexico

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Historical Context

The history of the consular function is largely associated with the development of international trade and the economic interest of States. While the origins of the consular institution can be traced back to ancient Greece, it was not until the twelfth century that the first figure of the consul emerged and developed to its present and more complex structure. In addition, the earliest codes on consular duties were developed throughout the same period, mostly in the form of maritime law compilations.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with the foundation of the diplomatic missions in Europe and its subsequent proliferation, a significant shift in consular powers came about, culminating with the publication of the first collection of consular rules (Ordonnance de la Marine, Colbert, 1681). The extraordinary increase of consulates during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries revealed the need for a more precise legal framework, particularly concerning the consular service and the legal status of consuls. Later on, the vertiginous changes in social, political and economic activity, as well as the increasing global trends affecting daily life impinged a new challenge for the consular institution: the protection of citizens and the safeguard of their interests.

Some preliminary attempts at the official codification of international consular legislation resulted in the adoption of regional agreements, preceding the pioneer work carried out by the League of Nations on the subject. In spite of the League of Nations’ conclusions regarding not only the desirability, but the paramount importance of consular regulation through international instruments, the issue was left pending for nearly twenty years.

Significant Developments in the Negotiating History

In 1949, the United Nations International Law Commission considered the inclusion of consular intercourse and immunities as part of its future codification work.

At its seventh session, held at Geneva, Switzerland, from 2 May to 8 July 1955, the Commission appointed Mr. Jaroslav Zourek as Special Rapporteur to commence the review of the matter and draft a set of provisional rules, based on jus cogens, national and international law.

The discussion did not formally start until 1958. The draft set of rules were later divided into four chapters (consular intercourse and immunities; consular privileges and immunities; legal status of honorary consuls and their privileges and immunities; and general provisions), and, accompanied by commentaries, submitted to Member States for their observations at different stages of the negotiation.

At its twelfth session held from 25 April to 1 July 1960, the Commission determined that articles referring to career consuls should also be applicable to honorary consuls. Consequently, the Commission included more comprehensive provisions and inserted some new articles, before provisionally adopting the draft articles and commentaries.

The numerous similarities of the subject to that of diplomatic immunities and intercourse led to the adoption of an accelerated procedure by the Commission on the topic. The 71 draft articles were then submitted to the United Nations General Assembly for information purposes and the vast majority of States decided that they should form the basis of a multilateral instrument codifying consular law.

With a view to adopting a convention on the subject, the Commission recommended that the United Nations General Assembly convene an international conference of plenipotentiaries in March 1963.

The United Nations Conference on Consular Relations was held in Vienna, Austria, from 4 March to 22 April 1963 and was attended by delegates of ninety-five States. After careful consideration of the International Law Commission’s text, the final version was prepared for submission to the plenary.

On 24 April 1963, the Conference adopted and opened for signature the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Optional Protocol concerning Acquisition of Nationality and the Optional Protocol concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes. The Convention and both Optional Protocols came into force on 19 March 1967.

Summary of Key Provisions

The Vienna Convention consists of 79 articles, most of which provide for the operation of consulates; outline the functions of consular agents; and address the privileges and immunities granted to consular officials when posted to a foreign country.

A few other articles specify consular officials’ duties when citizens of their country face difficulties in a foreign nation.

Of particular interest for the right of individuals is article 36, providing for certain obligations for competent authorities in the case of an arrest or detention of a foreign national, in order to guarantee the inalienable right to counsel and due process through consular notification and effective access to consular protection.

Influence of the Instrument on Subsequent Legal Developments

In recent years, the right to consular notification and access provided for in the Vienna Convention has increasingly been raised in proceedings not only at the domestic and regional levels, but also in international courts.

The first United States case relating to article 36 of the Vienna Convention was Breard v. Greene (523 U.S. 371, 1988), followed by numerous claims in United States federal circuit courts of appeals, state supreme courts, and the United States Supreme Court. Interpretations have varied widely, from the non-recognition of fundamental rights conferred by article 36, where no appropriate remedy is available, to the possibility of individually enforcing those rights.

In 1999, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued an advisory opinion, recognizing that article 36 creates individual rights, as a “notable exception to what are essentially States’ rights and obligations accorded elsewhere” in the Convention (Advisory Opinion of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights: Due Process of Law is a Fundamental Right (OC-16/99), para. 82).

In 2001, the International Court of Justice in LaGrand (Germany v. United States of America) found that where a violation of article 36 occurs, a remedy is due consisting of “review and reconsideration by United States courts of convictions and sentences”, in light of the breach of the Convention.

The Avena and other Mexican Nationals case (Mexico v. United States of America) marked a turning point regarding article 36 jurisprudence. The International Court of Justice’s unprecedented decision of 2004 expressly recognized the interdependence of both individual and State’s rights, by asserting that violations of the rights of the individual under article 36 may entail a violation of the rights of the sending State, and that violations of the rights of the latter may entail a violation of the rights of the individual” (I. C. J Reports 2004, p. 36).

Moreover, the Court stated that the fact that in this case the ruling concerned only Mexican nationals cannot be taken to imply that the conclusions reached by it in the Avena case do not apply to other foreign nationals finding themselves in similar situations in other countries.

These cases may eventually carry significant consequences for countries legally imposing the death penalty: “That is, only where the most rigorous standards of fairness and legality of international jurisprudence are scrupulously followed.” (Catherine M. Amirfar, “The Avena Case in the International Court of Justice”, in German Law Journal No. 4, April, 2004.)


Related Materials

A. Legal Instruments


Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Vienna on 18 April 1961, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 500, p. 95.

Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations concerning Acquisition of Nationality, Vienna, 24 April 1963,  United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. vol. 596, p. 469.

Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes, Vienna, 24 April 1963, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 596, p. 487.

B. Jurisprudence

International

International Court of Justice, The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (Paraguay v. United States of America), Provisional Measures, Order of 9 April 1998, I.C.J. Reports 1998, p. 248 (Breard).

International Court of Justice, The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (Paraguay v. United States of America), Order of 10 November 1998, I.C.J. Reports 1998, p. 426 (Breard).

International Court of Justice, LaGrand (Germany v. United States of America), Judgment, I.C. J. Reports 2001, p. 466.

International Court of Justice, Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United Slates of America), Judgment, I.C.J. Reports 2004, p. 12.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Advisory Opinion of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, The right to information on consular assistance in the framework of the guarantees of the due process of law, (OC-16/99), 1 October 1999.

National

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, LaGrand v. Stewart, 133 F.3d 1253 (1998), 16 January 1998.

United States Supreme Court, Breard v. Greene, 523 U.S. 371 (1998), 14 April 1998.

United States Supreme Court, Sánchez-Llamas v. Oregon, 548 U.S. 331 (2006), 28 June 2006.

C. Documents

Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its seventh session, 2 May to 8 July 1955 (A/2934, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1955, vol. II, Chapter IV (A/CN.4/94)).

Yearbook of the International Law Commission 1957, vol. II (A/CN.4/108, Report on Consular intercourse and immunities by Mr. J. Zourek, Special Rapporteur).

Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its twelfth session, 25 April to 1 July 1960 (A/4425, and reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1960, vol. II, Chapter II (A/CN.4/132)).

General Assembly resolution 1504 (XV) of 12 December 1960 (Report of the International Law Commission covering the work of its 12th session).

Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its thirteenth session, 1 May to 7 July 1961 (A/4843, and reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1961, vol. II, Chapter II (A/CN.4/141)).

General Assembly resolution 1685 (XVI) of 18 December 1961 (International conference of plenipotentiaries on consular relations).

General Assembly resolution 1813 (XVII) of 18 December 1962 (International conference of plenipotentiaries on consular relations).

Laws and Regulations regarding Diplomatic and Consular Privileges and Immunities, in United Nations Legislative Series, ST/LEG/SER.B/7, United Nations publication, Sales No. 58.V.3,1961.

Laws and Regulations regarding Diplomatic and Consular Privileges and Immunities, in United Nations Legislative Series, ST/LEG/SER.B/13, United Nations publication, Sales No. 63.V.5, 1963.

D. Doctrine

W. J. Aceves, “The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations: A Study of Rights, Wrongs and Remedies”, Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, March, 1998.

C. M. Amirfar, “The Avena Case in the International Court of Justice”, in German Law Journal No. 4, April, 2004.

C. Sims, J. and L. E. Carter, “Emerging Importance of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations as a Defense Tool”, Champion 28, September/October, 1998.

C. S. Harry, “Determining the remedy for violation of Art. 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations: review, reconsideration, and the clemency process after Avena”, in George Washington International Law Review, vol. 38, issue 1, 2006, pp 130-158.

E. Denza, Diplomatic Law: A Commentary on the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 2nd ed., Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998.

J. M. Gómez-Robledo Verduzco, “El caso Avena y otros nacionales mexicanos (México c. Estados Unidos de América) ante la Corte Internacional de Justicia”, Anuario Mexicano de Derecho Internacional, vol. V, 2005, pp. 173-220.

L. T. Lee, “The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations”, in American Journal of International Law, vol. 62, No. 1, January, 1968, pp. 212-214.

L. T. Luke and J. Quigley, Consular Law and Practice, 3rd edition, Oxford University Press, USA, 2008.

C. J. Le Mon, “Post-Avena application of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by US Courts”, Leiden Journal of International Law, vol. 18, issue 2, 2005, pp. 215-236.

S. D. Murphy, United States practice in International Law, vol. 1: 1999-2001, Cambridge, United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press (2002).

C. Schulte, “Jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice: order issued in the case concerning the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations”, European Journal of International Law, vol. 9, 1998, pp. 761-762.


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At its first session, in 1949, the International Law Commission selected the subject of consular intercourse and immunities as one of the topics for codification without, however, including it in the list of topics to which it gave priority. In 1955, the Commission decided to begin the study of this topic and appointed Jaroslav Žourek as Special Rapporteur.

The Commission considered this topic in 1956 and from 1958 to 1961. In connection with its work on this topic, the Commission had before it the reports of the Special Rapporteur (A/CN.4/108, A/CN.4/131 and A/CN.4/137) and information provided by Governments (A/CN.4/136 and Adds.1-11).

In 1960, the Commission adopted on first reading sixty-five draft articles, together with commentaries, and transmitted the draft to Governments for their comments. In 1961, the Commission adopted a final draft on consular relations, consisting of seventy-one articles accompanied by commentaries. In submitting the final draft to the General Assembly, the Commission recommended that the Assembly convene an international conference of plenipotentiaries to study the draft and conclude one or more conventions on the subject.

The General Assembly, in resolution 1685 (XVI) of 18 December 1961, noted “with satisfaction that the draft articles on consular relations prepared by the International Law Commission constitute a good basis for the preparation of a convention on that subject”, decided that an international conference of plenipotentiaries should be convened at Vienna at the beginning of March 1963, and referred to the Conference the report adopted by the ILC containing draft articles on consular relations. At the same time, in order “to provide an opportunity for completing the preparatory work by further expressions and exchanges of views concerning the draft articles at the seventeenth [1962] session”, the Assembly also requested Member States to submit written comments on the draft articles, by 1 July 1962, for circulation to Governments prior to the beginning of the seventeenth session, and decided to place on the provisional agenda of that session the item “Consular relations”.

In 1962, after a discussion on the draft articles on consular relations in the Sixth Committee, the General Assembly, by resolution 1813 (XVII) of 18 December 1962, requested the Secretary-General to transmit to the conference of plenipotentiaries the summary records and documentation relating to the consideration of this item at the Assembly’s seventeenth session, and invited States intending to participate in the conference to submit to the Secretary-General as soon as possible, for circulation to Governments, any amendment to the draft articles which they might wish to propose in advance of the conference.

The United Nations Conference on Consular Relations, which was attended by delegates of ninety-five States, met at Vienna from 4 March to 22 April 1963. The Conference assigned consideration of the draft articles prepared by the International Law Commission, and certain additional proposals, to two main committees, each composed of all the participating States. After the articles and proposals had been dealt with in the main committees, they were referred to a drafting committee, which prepared texts for submission to the Conference meeting in plenary session. The Conference adopted the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, consisting of seventy-nine articles, an Optional Protocol concerning Acquisition of Nationality and an Optional Protocol concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes.

The Final Act of the Conference was signed on 24 April 1963. The Convention and Optional Protocols remained open for signature until 31 October 1963 at the Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Austria and subsequently, until 31 March 1964, at United Nations Headquarters. They remain open for accession by all Members of the United Nations or of any of the specialized agencies or Parties to the Statute of the International Court of Justice, and by any other State invited by the General Assembly to become a party. The Convention and both Optional Protocols came into force on 19 March 1967.


Text of the Convention

Selected preparatory documents
(in chronological order)

Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its first session, 12 April 1949 (A/CN.4/12 and Corr. 1-3, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1949, vol. I, Part One, Chapter II)

Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its seventh session, 2 May to 8 July 1955 (A/2934, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1955, vol. II, Chapter IV (A/CN.4/94))

Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its eighth session, 23 April to 4 July 1956 (A/3159, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1956, vol. II, Chapter III (A/CN.4/104))

Report on Consular Intercourse and Immunities by Mr. Jaroslav Žourek, Special Rapporteur (A/CN.4/108, 15 April 1957, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1957, vol. II)

Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its ninth session, 23 April to 28 June 1957 (A/3623, and reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1957, vol. II, Chapter II (A/CN.4/110))

Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its tenth session, 28 April to 4 July 1958 (A/3859, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1958, vol. II, Chapter III (A/CN.4/117))

Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its eleventh session, 20 April to 26 June 1959 (A/4169, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1959, vol. II, Chapter III (A/CN.4/122))

Proposals and comments submitted by Mr. Alfred Verdross regarding the draft provisional articles on Consular Intercourse and Immunities (A/CN.4/L.79, 13 March 1959, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1959, vol. II)

Proposals and comments submitted by Mr. Georges Scelle regarding the draft provisional articles on Consular Intercourse and Immunities (A/CN.4/L.82, 14 May 1959, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1959, vol. II)

Second Report on Consular Intercourse and Immunities by Mr. Jaroslav Žourek, Special Rapporteur (A/CN.4/131, 30 March 1960, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1960, vol. II, Chapter II)

Provisional draft articles submitted by Mr. Jaroslav Žourek, Special Rapporteur (A/CN.4/L.86, 21 April 1960, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1960, vol. II, Chapter II)

Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its twelfth session, 25 April to 1 July 1960 (A/4425, and reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1960, vol. II, Chapter II (A/CN.4/132))

Comments by Governments on the draft articles concerning Consular intercourse and immunities provisionally adopted by the International Law Commission at its twelfth session, held from 25 April to 1 July 1960 (A/CN.4/136 and Corr.1 (French only) and Adds.1-11, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1961, vol. II)

Third Report on Consular Intercourse and Immunities by Mr. Jaroslav Žourek, Special
Rapporteur (A/CN.4/137, 13 April 1961, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1961, vol. II)

Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its thirteenth session, 1 May to 7 July 1961 (A/4843, and reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1961, vol. II, Chapter II (A/CN.4/141))

Draft Articles on Consular Relations, with commentaries, included in the report of the International Law Commission on the work of its thirteenth session, 1 May to 7 July 1961 (A/CN.4/SER.A/1961/Add. 1, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1961, vol. II)

Statement by Mr. Grigory I. Tunkin, Chairman of the International Law Commission at the 700th meeting of the Sixth Committee (A/C.6/L.484 and Corr. 1, 20 October 1961)

Draft resolution sponsored by Denmark, Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia, United States of America, Uruguay and Venezuela (A/C.6/L.485 and Add. 1, 31 October 1961, and A/C.6/L.485/Rev.1, 8 November 1961)

Draft resolution sponsored by Ceylon, Czechoslovakia, Guinea, India, Indonesia and Poland (A/C.6/L.486, 31 October 1961)

Report of the Sixth Committee to the General Assembly (A/5013, 7 December 1961)

General Assembly, Verbatim records of plenary meeting No. 1081 held on 18 December 1961 (A/PV.1081)

General Assembly resolution 1685 (XVII) of 18 December 1961 (International Conference of Plenipotentiaries on Consular Relations)

General Assembly, Verbatim records of plenary meeting No. 1196 held on 18 December 1962 (A/PV.1196)

General Assembly resolution 1813 (XVII) of 18 December 1962 (International Conference of Plenipotentiaries on Consular Relations)

Official Records of the United Nations Conference on Consular Relations, held from 4 March to 22 April 1963, Vol. I and II, (A/CONF.25/16 and A/CONF.25/16/Add.1)


The Convention entered into force on 19 March 1967. For the current participation status of the Convention, as well as information and relevant texts of related treaty actions, such as reservations, declarations, objections, denunciations and notifications, see:


The Status of Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General

April 1960, Twelfth session of the International Law Commission, Geneva, Switzerland (from left to right, facing the camera): Mr. Shuhsi Hsu (China); Mr. J. P. A. François (the Netherlands); Mr. Nihat Erim (Turkey); Mr. Douglas L. Edmonds (USA); Mr. Gilberto Amado (Brazil); and Mr. Roberto Ago (Italy). April 1960, Twelfth session of the International Law Commission, Geneva, Switzerland (from left to right): Sir Gerald Fitzmaurice (United Kingdom), Rapporteur; Mr. Kisaburo Yokota (Japan), Vice-chairman; Mr. L. Padilla Nervo (Mexico), Chairman; and Mr. Yuen-li Liang (China), Secretary. April 1960, Twelfth session of the International Law Commission, Geneva, Switzerland. April 1960, Twelfth session of the International Law Commission, Geneva, Switzerland.
April 1960
Twelfth session of the International Law Commission, Geneva, Switzerland
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April 1960
Twelfth session of the International Law Commission, Geneva, Switzerland
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April 1960
Twelfth session of the International Law Commission, Geneva, Switzerland.
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April 1960
Twelfth session of the International Law Commission, Geneva, Switzerland
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9 November 1961, Sixteenth Session of the General Assembly, meeting of the Sixth Committee, United Nations Headquarters, New York (from left to right): Mr. A. T. M. Mustafa, Barrister-at-Law (Pakistan); Dr. Milan Sahovic, Head of the International Law Department (Yugoslavia); and Mr. Suffri Jusuf, Directorate of Legal Affairs, Foreign Affairs Department (Indonesia). 9 November 1961, Sixteenth Session of the General Assembly, meeting of the Sixth Committee, United Nations Headquarters, New York (from left to right): Mr. Tiemoko Kompah, Secretary of the National Union of Syndicates (Mali); Mr. Cheick Mbaye, Head of the Department of African Affairs (Guinea); and Mr. Amadou Thiam, Head of the Legal Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Mali).  9 November 1961, Sixteenth Session of the General Assembly, meeting of the Sixth Committee, United Nations Headquarters, New York (from left to right): Mrs. A. P. Schilthuis (the Netherlands), and Mr. Ramanand Sinha, Government Advocate (Nepal). 31 May 1974, United Nations Headquarters, New York (from left to right): Mr. F. Blaine Sloan, Director of the General Legal Division, United Nations Office of Legal Affairs, receiving the Instrument of Accession from Ambassador Callixte Habamenshi, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations; Mr. E. Munyanshongore, Second Secretary of Rwanda; and Mr. P. Giblain, Chief of the Treaty Section, United Nations Office of Legal Affairs.
9 November 1961
Sixteenth Session of the General Assembly, meeting of the Sixth Committee,
United Nations Headquarters,
New York
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9 November 1961
Sixteenth Session of the General Assembly, meeting of the Sixth Committee,
United Nations Headquarters,
New York
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9 November 1961
Sixteenth Session of the General Assembly, meeting of the Sixth Committee,
United Nations Headquarters,
New York
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31 May 1974
United Nations Headquarters,
New York
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