Need For Review Of Vienna Convention On Consular Relations 1963 For More Effective Functioning Of Honorary Consuls

June 18, 2015 | News


Hon. K.S. Bhalla, Secretary General of the Honorary Corps Consulaire Diplomatique-INDIA, Chairman of the South Asia Regional Committee addressing the conference.

Honourable President of World Federation of Consuls, Honourable Dean of Ghana CC, Honourable Consuls , Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen:

Honorary consuls now exist in almost every country in the world. They are emerging as significant components of diplomatic power in the scheme of traditional diplomacy exercised from embassies. Honorary consuls do exactly the same work as career diplomats of the same rank. In fact in capitals of the States, honorary consuls do the work of Ambassadors. The sending States do not have to incur any expenditure on staffing and other paraphernalia in the Consulates headed by honorary consuls. Most of the honorary consuls bear the entire expenditure on housing and running their Consulates.

Persons occupying the office of honorary consul are well-respected persons in prominent social positions. They are established businessmen, captains of industry, well-reputed professionals and former bureaucrats of high standing. They are persons of status in society. They are persons of high caliber and level of their service is highly professional and in no way less than that of career consuls.

But it passes understanding why honorary consuls , who are highly educated, widely experienced and immensely mature, and who serve for free, are not treated at par with career consuls in certain essential matters under the Vienna Convention.

RESPECT AND DIGNITY

Article 40 ( Career Consul) :The receiving State shall treat (career) consular officers with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on their person, freedom or dignity.

Article 64 (Honorary Consul):The receiving State is under a duty to accord to an honorary consular officer such protection as may be required by reason of his official position.

Article 40 of Vienna Convention says: “The receiving State shall treat (career) consular officers with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on their person, freedom or dignity.” But Vienna Convention does not feel the necessity of granting honorary consuls the same respect, the same dignity and the same protection from attack on their person as given to career consuls.

Corresponding Article 64 relating to honorary consuls says : “The receiving State is under a duty to accord to an honorary consular officer such protection as may be required by reason of his official position.” Why is Vienna Convention silent on giving honorary consuls the same “respect” and the same �protection from attack on their person, freedom and dignity” as guaranteed to career consuls? It can be nobody�s case that honorary consuls are inferior to career consuls in any way and do not deserve such courtesies. Then why should receiving States not be required to show honorary consuls the same “respect” as shown to career consuls? Why has Vienna Convention not shown the same concern for the “freedom and dignity” of honorary consuls as it has done for “freedom and dignity” of career consuls?

Both career consuls and honorary consuls are heads of missions; both represent sovereign States; both do the same type work. There should be no reason why both honorary consuls and career consuls are not placed at par in the matter of respect, freedom and dignity?

Amendment suggested: Article 64 relating to honorary consuls should be worded on the lines of Article 40 relating to career consuls. 2. Freedom of movement: Article 34: ( for both career consuls and honorary consuls):

FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT:- Subject to its laws and regulations concerning zones entry into which is prohibited or regulated for reasons of national security, the receiving State shall ensure freedom of movement and travel in its territory to all members of the consular post.

Article 34 of Vienna Convention enjoins upon the receiving States to ensure freedom of movement and travel in its territory to all members of the consular post. This article applies to both career consuls and honorary consuls. Accordingly, freedom of movement is to be guaranteed to members of consular posts headed by career consuls as well as honorary consuls. Vienna Convention is, however, silent on the methodology to ensure the freedom of movement. There is a gap between theory and practice. In the case of career consular posts, this gap has been filled up by issue of CD/CC number plates by receiving States. But there is no such mechanism in the case of honorary consular posts to ensure the free movement of their vehicles. Though a few States have started issuing CC number plates for vehicles of honorary consuls and have placed them at par with career consuls in this respect, in most of the States, honorary consuls do not enjoy this privilege. The result is that honorary consuls are not as free to move about and not as free to park their vehicles as career consuls. Their vehicles can be and are intercepted by traffic and security personnel thus obstructing their free movement, hurting their dignity and handicapping them in the discharge of their official functions. Obstruction of free movement is an infringement of Article 34.

As Article 34 gives privilege of free movement to both career consuls and honorary consuls, both categories of consular officers should be issued CC number plates by all States which is the passport for free movement recognized by traffic and security personnel all over.

Amendment suggested: To make this privilege available universally and as a matter of course, the following clause be added to Article 34: ” To ensure freedom of movement as envisaged in this Article , distinctive and identical number plates shall be issued by a receiving State for the vehicles of consular posts of all sending States regardless of whether they are headed by career consuls or honorary consuls.

3. Exemption from taxation of Consular premises:- Article 32 (Career Consul): 1. Consular premises and the residence of the career head of consular post of which the sending State or any person acting on its behalf is the owner or lessee shall be exempt from all national, regional or municipal dues and taxes whatsoever, other than such as represent payment for specific services rendered.

Article 60 (Honorary Consul): 1. Consular premises of a consular post headed by an honorary consular officer of which the sending State is the owner or lessee shall be exempt from all national, regional or municipal dues and taxes whatsoever, other than such as represent payment for specific services rendered.

In the matter of national, regional and municipal dues and taxes, Article 32 ( relating to premises of career consuls) and Article 60 ( relating to premises of posts headed by honorary consuls) make identical provisions in that consular premises of career consuls and honorary consuls have been exempted from all such taxes. While, on paper, career consuls and honorary consuls appear at par for the purpose of exemption of their premises from taxation , in actual practice it is not so. There is a catch in these Articles. Both the Articles say that consular premises are exempt from taxes only if they are owned or hired by the sending States. As we all know, consular premises of career consuls are always, I repeat always, owned or hired by sending States and thus qualify for exemption from taxes. But consular premises of honorary consuls are rarely, I repeat rarely, owned or hired by sending States. By and large, consular premises used by honorary consuls are owned or hired by honorary consuls themselves, not by their sending States. Consequently, consular premises used by honorary consuls do not qualify for exemption from taxes. The result is that honorary consuls have to pay taxes on premises which are used by them to serve the sending States. Why should it be so?

In the matter of taxation on consular premises , consular premises of both categories of consuls should be treated alike and be exempt from taxation irrespective of the fact whether these are owned or hired by sending States or by honorary consuls themselves.

Amendment suggested: Article 60 should be amended as follows:- For the words ” the sending State “, substitute the words “the sending State or the honorary consul”.

4. Exemption of imported office equipment from customs duty:- Article 50 (Career consul) : 1. The receiving State shall, in accordance with such laws and regulations as it may adopt, permit entry of and grant exemption from all customs duties, taxes, and related charges other than charges for storage, cartage and similar services, on :articles for the official use of the consular post; articles for the personal use of a consular officer or members of his family forming part of his household, including articles intended for his establishment. The articles intended for consumption shall not exceed the quantities necessary for direct utilization by the persons concerned.

Article 62 (Honorary Consul): The receiving State shall, in accordance with such laws and regulations as it may adopt, permit entry of, and grant exemption from all customs duties, taxes, and related charges other than charges for storage, cartage and similar services on the following articles, provided that they are for the official use of a consular post headed by an honorary consular officer: coats-of-arms, flags, signboards, seals and stamps, books, official printed matter, office furniture, office equipment and similar articles supplied by or at the instance of the sending State to the consular postUnder Article 50 of Vienna Convention ( relating to career consuls) , articles imported for the official use of a Consular post headed by career consuls are exempt from customs duty. But , under corresponding Article 62 (which relates to honorary consuls), similar articles imported for official use of consular posts headed by honorary consuls are not exempt from customs duty unless these articles are supplied by or at the instance of the sending States. Sending States rarely supply office equipments to honorary consular posts. As honorary consuls procure office equipments, locally or from overseas, from their own pocket, exemption from customs duty referred to in Article 62 is merely an eye wash so far as honorary consuls are concerned and is of no use to honorary consuls. When office equipment is procured for the same purpose, namely, running the consular post in the interest of the sending State, why should the equipment imported by honorary consuls be taxed and that imported by career consuls should be exempted. It amounts to double burden on honorary consuls in that they spend money from their own pocket on import of office equipment and over and above they are also required to pay customs duty on such equipment.

Why so?

So long as office equipment is for the exclusive use of consular posts, all such equipment , whether supplied by sending States or imported by honorary consuls on their own, should be exempt from customs duty.

Amendment suggested: In Article 62, for the words “supplied by or at the instance of the sending State to the consular post” substitute the words ” procured for the consular post by the sending State or by the head of the consular post.”

Exemption of locally purchased articles from national , regional and municipal taxes:- Not only do honorary consuls face discrimination in the matter of taxation on imported equipment, they face similar discrimination in the matter of articles of office use procured locally.

Article 49 ( re: career consuls): EXEMPTION FROM TAXATION:-

1. Consular officers and consular employees and members of their families forming part of their households shall be exempt from all dues and taxes , personal or real, national, regional or municipal, except: indirect taxes of a kind which are normally incorporated in the price of goods or services; ……

2. Members of the service staff shall be exempt from dues and taxes on the wages which they receive for their services. Article 66 : (re: honorary consuls): EXEMPTION FROM TAXATION:- An honorary consular officer shall be exempt from all dues and taxes on the remuneration and emoluments which he receives from the sending State in respect of the exercise of consular functions.

Article 49 exempts career consuls and employees of their consular posts and members of their families from all dues and taxes, personal or real, national, regional or municipal, except: (a) indirect taxes of a kind which are normally incorporated in the price of goods or services; ( there are some more such exceptions which are not relevant here.)

Article 66 ( relating to honorary consuls) exempts honorary consuls only from taxes on the remuneration and emoluments which they may receive from the sending State in respect of the exercise of consular functions.

Thus not only the articles purchased by career consuls for the official use of their consular posts including liquors for service at national day receptions and other official functions are exempt from all taxes but articles purchased by them for their private use are also exempt from local taxes. In other words, career consuls do not have pay Sales Tax, VAT and other local taxes on any article whether purchased for official use or for private use.

Honorary consuls have no case to ask for exemption from taxes on articles purchased by them for their private use.

But when honorary consuls purchase office equipments or office furniture or other articles or liquors etc for official use of the consular post, they are required to pay Sales Tax, VAT and other local taxes, which in some countries are as high as 30%. Why this discrimination between career consuls and honorary consuls in the matter of taxes on articles for official use? This inequality castes double burden on honorary consuls and makes running of the their consular posts unduly expensive. Though honorary consuls were prepared to bear all expenditure on running their consulates when they accepted honorary consulship, additional burden of taxation on articles purchased for official use of consular posts pinches.

Both the categories of consuls run their consulates in the service of the sending States. When articles are purchased by honorary consuls in the interest of the sending States, there is no justification to inflict on them additional burden of local taxes, when similar articles in the hands of career consuls are exempt from taxes. Recognising the need for equality in the matter of taxation on articles and services procured for official use in consular posts, there is a strong case for inserting the following new Article in the Vienna Convention:-

“New Article: A consular post headed by an honorary consular officer shall be exempt from national, regional or municipal taxes, on goods, articles, and services required or procured for the use of the consular post including alcoholic beverages, food and other items required for use at its official functions, national day receptions and receptions held in honour of dignitaries from the sending State.

“Vienna Convention on Consular Relations was born in 1963. Four decades have passed since then. Honorary consular corps were not strong enough when this Convention was made. Times have changed. Expectations have changed. Pressures have changed. Environment has changed. Organs of United Nations are in for change. It is time that the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations is also taken up for a thorough review to bring it in tune with the changed times. It would be a time-consuming exercise. Let the beginning be made now .