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What is a persona non grata?

A diplomatic passport

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12.12.2019 - Article

Diplomats can be “expelled” or declared personae non gratae either when they do not comply with accepted behaviour or to send a political signal. Such a decision is made by the receiving state and does not require an explanation.

By declaring a person non grata, the receiving state can unilaterally terminate a diplomat’s functions in its territory. Following such a declaration, the sending state must recall this diplomat, who is then required to leave the country within a deadline set by the receiving state.

Prerequisites and implications

The corresponding provisions are contained in Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. These stipulate that the receiving state may at any time and without having to explain its decision notify the sending state that one of the members of its diplomatic staff is no longer welcome.

Declaring a diplomat persona non grata does not mean that he or she has failed to comply with accepted behaviour. The decision lies solely with the receiving state and does not require an explanation.

This step is generally taken to express disapproval of another country’s actions.

Deadline for departure of a persona non grata

The receiving state sets a deadline by when a diplomat whom it has declared non grata must be recalled, and diplomatic law states further that this must happen “within a reasonable period”. Effectively, this is taken to mean that the deadline must be (at a minimum) 48 hours. The practice is therefore often also referred to as the “expulsion” of a diplomat.

The sending state has an obligation under international law to recall the diplomat who is no longer welcome within the deadline. Upon expiration of the deadline, the receiving state may refuse to recognise the person concerned as a member of the mission. This would revoke immunity in the receiving state for the diplomat who has been declared non grata, giving the national authorities access to him or her.

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