Jovan Kurbalija   06 May 2010   E-Diplomacy

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Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities in the Internet Era

by Gergő Pasqualetti, Permanent Representation of Hungary to the European Union

The topic of privileges and immunities (often referred to as P&I) is an evergreen classic of diplomatic law. The basic legal instrument in force on the subject (the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations) was drafted more than half century ago. It became obvious already in the mid ‘80s that the traditional method of interpretation using the commentaries of the UN International Law Commission no longer leads to the desired results in terms of practicality because of the rapidly changing environment. Just to give you an example: the diplomatic community – as well as ordinary people – started to use motor vehicles in increasing quantities, which created various problems especially in big cities like New York, London or Peking. The question of P&I was a part of the problem. Certainly the drafting fathers were not in a position in the 1950s to foresee the technical boom and take all possible consequences into consideration. The only viable solution was to adjust the treaty provisions to the new circumstances and expectations by way of the so-called “evolutive interpretation”.

Somewhat similarly, nowadays we are facing the challenge of a relatively new boom, notably the information revolution that redesigns our everyday lives and working methods. In that context a number of questions arise:

  • How can we use the latest technology in line with the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR)?

  • How can the VCDR be interpreted in a way to cover satellite communication between missions and their capitals?

  • How might the screening of the diplomatic bag be considered in the light of existence of modern screening devices? (VCDR v. EU measures)

  • What legal difficulties does the use of smart phones potentially imply with regard to the prohibition of espionage?

Basically these are the main issues I wish to raise during the Malta Conference. I will demonstrate the problems through specific and concrete cases, provide a legal interpretation using treaties, commentaries and case-law, and finally suggest a solution for each of them.

Your views, ideas and questions are very welcome either during the panel or in advance through our website.

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