Opinion piece: Detention of Iranian diplomats is a violation of international law

Opinion piece: Detention of Iranian diplomats is a violation of international law

Detention of Iranian diplomat; explicit violation of international law and disregard for the legal rights of a human being

In June 2018, Assadollah Asadi, an Iranian diplomat, the third adviser to the Iranian embassy in Austria, was arrested on a false charge despite diplomatic immunity in an illegal act, and the news spread throughout the media. In October 2018, prosecutors announced that Germany had extradited an Iranian diplomat to Belgium and had detained him for more than two years since June 2018.

The Vienna Convention is the most important treaty on diplomatic law, and Article 29 of that convention states: “A political agent has diplomatic immunity and cannot be stopped or detained in any manner. The host country would treat him with the respect he/she deserves and will take the necessary measures to prevent harm to him/her and his/her freedom and dignity.”

On the other hand, according to the law, whenever a country names a representative of a country with diplomatic passport an ‘undesirable element’, it can expel him;  expulsion is the highest level of diplomatic discipline towards the presence, behavior or performance of a diplomat, not to arrest him or take him to an unknown place and hide him.

The special immunities and privileges granted to foreign diplomatic and consular representatives reflect the rules that have been developed among the nations of the world for the conduct of civilized international relations.

The main philosophy of these immunities and benefits is to enable foreign delegates to perform their duties effectively. In fact, the purpose of these immunities is not to benefit individuals, but to ensure the effective and efficient execution of official missions on behalf of their government.

Diplomatic missions have traditionally been the main correspondence link between the sending and receiving countries. Therefore, the staff of diplomatic missions (embassies) enjoy the highest level of benefits and immunities in the host country so that in addition to job guarantees, the safety of their lives is also guaranteed.

The most important international document on this subject is the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The definition of diplomatic mission personnel is largely determined by the employment they perform. The definition of these areas is general, and in which area or category a person is located depends to some extent on the reciprocal practices of the receiving and sending countries.


In principle, as mentioned, diplomatic agents have the highest level of benefits and immunities, and such individuals cannot be arrested or detained. These agents also have full immunity before the courts of the receiving country and therefore cannot be prosecuted; even if accused of a serious crime, they must be dealt with in accordance to the law unless the sending country waives their immunity.

Therefore, a person has immunity when he is a diplomatic agent both in the host country and in a third country. If a country arrests or detains a diplomatic agent while he has immunity, such action has violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Thus, the action of Germany and Belgium is a clear violation of their international obligation.

Since the philosophy of benefits and immunities guarantees the effective implementation of the function of diplomatic agents by the sending country, it is logical that the sending country is the main holder of these benefits and immunities and can take them back from the person whenever it chooses. Hence, neither the receiving country nor the individual can take them back.

Under Article 32 of the 1961 Convention, the immunity of diplomatic agents and persons having immunity is revoked solely by the sending State. According to Article 40, if a diplomatic agent is in a third country or wants to cross that country, the third country must grant the immunities necessary to ensure the passage or return of that agent.

 “An Algerian diplomat is arrested at Amsterdam Airport in the Netherlands on the way to Syria from Brazil with a suitcase containing a number of grenades, explosives and weapons. Although the Dutch government was not a party to the 1961 Convention on Diplomatic Relations, it was generally enforcing its rules and took the approach that it did not have the right to detain the diplomat and only seized his luggage.

“Compare this with the action of the German government as a member of the convention, when Mr. Assadollah Asadi, our country’s diplomat, was passing through this country and returning to his work place in Vienna; his car stopped and he was arrested and returned to Belgium only facing some accusations. The principle of possible violation of the Convention and unlawful conduct by states claiming to comply with international rules is not a new issue, but what has been neglected, despite its importance and necessity, is the role of the legal community, especially professors and researchers of international law.

But at the end, it is necessary to know that the main actor in this scenario is the terrorist and evil sect of MKO with a history of more than 12,000 assassinations in Iran and Iraq, which, with the support of countries like the United States and some European nations, not only accepts the responsibility of their committed crimes in a fair trial but now they are playing the role of a Plaintiff.

The sect even carried out terrorist acts on Iranian soil, from 2003 to 2009, when it was listed as a terrorist organization by the European Union, or from 1997 to 2012, when it was listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States, and has never been questioned. The reason is clear and goes back to the division of terrorism into good and bad and the benefit that it can have for some countries.