A diplomatic mission or foreign mission is a group of people from one state or an organization present in another state to represent the sending state or organization officially in the receiving state. In practice, the phrase diplomatic mission usually denotes the resident mission, namely the embassy, which is the main office of a country's diplomatic representatives to another country; this is usually, but not necessarily, in the receiving state's capital city. Consulates, on the other hand, are smaller diplomatic missions which are normally located in major cities of the receiving state (but can be located in the capital, usually when the sending country has no embassy in the receiving state). As well as being a diplomatic mission to the country in which it is situated, it may also be a non-resident permanent mission to one or more other countries. There are thus resident and non-resident embassies.
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A country may have several different types of diplomatic missions in another country.
An embassy is a diplomatic mission generally located in the capital city of another country which offers a full range of services, including consular services.
A high commission is an embassy of a Commonwealth country located in another Commonwealth country.
A permanent mission is a diplomatic mission to a major international organization.
A consulate general is a diplomatic mission located in a major city, usually other than the capital city, which provides a full range of consular services.
A consulate is a diplomatic mission that is similar to a consulate general, but may not provide a full range of services.
A consular mission is the office of a consulate.
A legation was a diplomatic representative office of lower rank than an embassy. Where an embassy was headed by an ambassador, a legation was headed by a minister. Ambassadors outranked ministers and had precedence at official events. Legations were originally the most common form of diplomatic mission, but they fell out of favor after World War II and were upgraded to embassies.
A consulate headed by an Honorary Consul is a diplomatic mission headed by an Honorary Consul which provides only a limited range of services.
The head of an embassy is known as an ambassador or high commissioner. The term embassy is commonly used also as a section of a building in which the work of the diplomatic mission is carried out, but, strictly speaking, it is the diplomatic delegation itself that is the embassy, while the office space and the diplomatic work done is called the chancery. Therefore, the embassy operates in the chancery.
The members of a diplomatic mission can reside within or outside the building that holds the mission's chancery, and their private residences enjoy the same rights as the premises of the mission as regards inviolability and protection.
All missions to the United Nations are known simply as permanent missions, while EU member states' missions to the European Union are known as permanent representations, and the head of such a mission is typically both a permanent representative and an ambassador. European Union missions abroad are known as EU delegations. Some countries have more particular nomenclature for their missions and staff: a Vatican mission is headed by a nuncio (Latin for "envoy") and consequently known as an apostolic nunciature. Under the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's missions used the name people's bureau, headed by a secretary.
Missions between Commonwealth countries are known as high commissions, and their heads are high commissioners. Generally speaking, ambassadors and high commissioners are regarded as equivalent in status and function, and embassies and high commissions are both deemed to be diplomatic missions.
In the past, a diplomatic mission headed by a lower-ranking official (an envoy or minister resident) was known as a legation. Since the ranks of envoy and minister resident are effectively obsolete, the designation of legation is no longer used today. (See diplomatic rank.)
A consulate is similar to, but not the same as a diplomatic office, but with focus on dealing with individual persons and businesses, as defined by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. A consulate or consulate general is generally a representative of the embassy in locales outside of the capital city. For instance, the Philippines has its Embassy of the Philippines in Washington, D.C., but also maintains seven consulates-general and four consulates elsewhere in the US. The person in charge of a consulate or consulate-general is known as a consul or consul-general, respectively. Similar services may also be provided at the embassy (to serve the region of the capital) in what is normally called a consular section.
In cases of dispute, it is common for a country to recall its head of mission as a sign of its displeasure. This is less drastic than cutting diplomatic relations completely, and the mission will still continue operating more or less normally, but it will now be headed by a chargé d'affaires (usually the deputy chief of mission) who may have limited powers. A chargé d'affaires ad interim also heads the mission during the interim between the end of one chief of mission's term and the beginning of another.
Contrary to popular belief, diplomatic missions do not enjoy full extraterritorial status and are generally not sovereign territory of the represented state. Rather, the premises of diplomatic missions remain under the jurisdiction of the host state while being afforded special privileges (such as immunity from most local laws) by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Diplomats themselves still retain full diplomatic immunity, and (as an adherent to the Vienna Convention) the authorities of the host country may not enter the premises of the mission without permission of the represented country, even to put out a fire. International rules designate an attack on an embassy as an attack on the country it represents. The term "extraterritoriality" is often applied to diplomatic missions, but normally only in this broader sense.
As the host country's authorities may not enter the representing country's embassy without permission, embassies are sometimes used by refugees escaping from either the host country or a third country. For example, North Korean nationals, who would be arrested and deported from China upon discovery, have sought sanctuary at various third-country embassies in China. Once inside the embassy, diplomatic channels can be used to solve the issue and send the refugees to another country. See the list of people who took refuge in a diplomatic mission for a list of some notable cases.
Notable violations of embassy extraterritoriality include repeated invasions of the British Embassy, Beijing (1967), the hostage crisis at the American embassy in Tehran, Iran (1979-1981), and the Japanese embassy hostage crisis at the ambassador's residence in Lima, Peru (1996-1997).
The Vienna Convention states:
The functions of a diplomatic mission consist, inter alia, in representing the sending State in the receiving State; protecting in the receiving State the interests of the sending State and of its nationals, within the limits permitted by international law; negotiating with the Government of the receiving State; ascertaining by all lawful means conditions and developments in the receiving State, and reporting thereon to the Government of the sending State; promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State, and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations.
Diplomatic missions between members of the British Commonwealth of Nations are not called embassies, but high commissions, for Commonwealth nations share a special diplomatic relationship. It is generally expected that an embassy of a Commonwealth country in a non-Commonwealth country will do its best to provide diplomatic services to citizens from other Commonwealth countries if the citizen's country does not have an embassy in that country. Canadian and Australian nationals enjoy even greater cooperation between their respective consular services, as outlined in the Canada-Australia Consular Services Sharing Agreement. The same kind of procedure is also followed multilaterally by the member states of the European Union (EU). European citizens in need of consular help in a country without diplomatic or consular representation of their own country may turn to any consular or diplomatic mission of another EU member state.
Some cities may host more than one mission from the same country.
In Rome, many states maintain separate missions to both Italy and the Holy See. It is not customary for these missions to share premises nor diplomatic personnel. At present, only the Iraqi missions to Italy and the Holy See share premises; however, two ambassadors are appointed, one to each country. In the case of the UN's Food Agencies, the Head of Mission to the Italian Republic is usually accredited as permanent representative. The United States maintains a separate United States Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome, whose head is the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture.
Several cities host both embassies/consulates and permanent representatives to international organizations, such as New York City (United Nations), Washington, D.C. (Organization of American States), and Brussels (European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization).
In some cases, an embassy or consulate is divided between two locations in the same city: for example, Kolkata in India hosts two Bangladeshi Deputy High Commissions, one at Park Circus and another, opened later, at Mirza Galib Street, to reduce overcrowding.
Governments of states not recognized by the receiving state and of territories that make no claim to be sovereign states may set up offices abroad that do not have official diplomatic status as defined by the Vienna Convention. Examples are the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Offices that represent the government of the Republic of China; Somaliland's Representative Offices in London, Addis Ababa, Rome, and Washington, D.C.; the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices that represent the government of that territory. Such offices assume some of the non-diplomatic functions of diplomatic posts, such as promoting trade interests and providing assistance to its citizens and residents. They are nevertheless not diplomatic missions, their personnel are not diplomats and do not have diplomatic visas, although there may be legislation providing for personal immunities and tax privileges, as in the case of the Hong Kong offices in London and Toronto, for example.
Red Guards scaled the British mission's wall as diplomats watched the Ealing comedy Two-Way Stretch. They retreated to an inner room without switching off the projector, pushing a piano across the door as the mob broke windows and began climbing in. Whitney and his colleagues retreated again to the embassy's secure zone, with heavily barred windows. The Chinese set fire to the mission, then used a battering ram on the steel emergency door.