Diplomatic relations, embassies-in-exile and ambassadors taking refuge in foreign embassies

Published: 31 December 2017 Author: Stefan Talmon

In response to a parliamentary question the Federal Government declared on 26 January 2018 that Germany maintains more than 220 diplomatic and consular missions abroad. In the following 43 countries the Federal Republic of Germany is not represented:

“Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bhutan, Cabo Verde, Central African Republic, Comoros, Cook Islands/Tokelau and Niue, Dominica, Fiji, Gambia, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Kiribati, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Monaco, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Suriname, Swaziland, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu.”

There are no German diplomatic missions in these countries. Diplomatic relations with these countries are maintained through non-resident ambassadors based in neighbouring countries. The only country Germany does not maintain diplomatic relations with is Bhutan.

The German embassies in Syria, Libya and Yemen have temporarily suspended their operation. This does not mean that diplomatic relations with these countries are severed, only that the members of the mission were withdrawn for security reasons. For example, on 28 July 2014 Germany evacuated its embassy in Tripoli and it has been operating out of the German embassy in Tunis ever since. The German embassy to Libya thus operates as an “embassy-in-exile”. This raises the question of the status of the members of the German mission to Libya based in Tunisia. Under the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations, the sending State may freely appoint the members of the staff of its diplomatic mission. In particular, Article 5, paragraph 1, of the Convention provides that the “sending State may, after it has given due notification to the receiving Sate concerned, accredit a head of mission or assign any member of the diplomatic staff, as the case may be, to more than one State, unless there is express objection by any of the receiving States.” With the cooperation of both Tunisia and Libya Germany has made use of this opportunity by assigning members of the diplomatic staff of its mission to Libya also as members of the mission to Tunisia. For example, the German ambassador to Libya, Christian Buck, has also been assigned as “Minister Plenipotentiary” to Tunisia.

On 31 May 2017, the German embassy in Kabul was extensively damaged in a serious car bomb explosion. As a consequence, the German embassy was closed until further notice. The German ambassador to Afghanistan and a small team worked out of the U.S. embassy in Kabul. While the members of the German mission to Afghanistan continued to enjoy diplomatic privileges and immunities in their own right, the offices of the German diplomats within the U.S. embassy partook in the inviolability of the premises of the U.S. mission. In the absence of a formal agreement between the United States of America and Germany on the status of the offices of the German diplomats within the U.S. embassy, the U.S. invitation to house the German diplomats must be interpreted as including a unilateral undertaking on the part of the United States not to enter the offices, except with the consent of the German ambassador.

Category:Diplomatic and consular relations

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  • Stefan Talmon

    Stefan Talmon is Professor of Public Law, Public International Law and European Union Law, and Director at the Institute of Public International Law at the University of Bonn. He is also a Supernumerary Fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, and practices as a Barrister from Twenty Essex, London. He is the editor of GPIL.

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