History of Consuls

Consuls relations have been established between peoples since ancient times. The history of the consular function is largely associated with the development of international trade and the economic interest of States.

Tracing the history of consular functions, one comes across a classical term "Proxenos" which meant a citizen of a city state(usually rich), who felt friendship towards another city state and therefore he voluntarily took up some of roles which are fulfilled, in present times, by honorary consuls, Proxenos also used all his contacts and influence to support friendship or alliance with the town which he voluntary represented-like for example, Cimon, a Proxenos of Sparta in Athens who operated there even before the outbreak of the first Peloponnesian War (460 BC-circa 445 BC), nearly 2500 years ago.

The origin of honorary consuls can be traced back to the 8th century, especially to china, India, and the Middle Eastern regions. In Europe, the origin of the consular institution takes us to ancient Greece where, in 12th Century, the first figure of the consul emerged and development to its present and more complex structure. The official Consular Corps was first established in France at the end of the 18th Century. Other states soon followed. The office of the honorary consul was originally sanctified by common law. The extraordinary increase of consulates during the 19th and 20th Centuries highlighted the need for a more precise legal framework, particularly concerning the consular service and the status of consuls.

After years of consultations and preliminary work, the United Nations Conference on Consular Relations met in Vienna (Austria) and adopted on April 24, 1963 the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and two optional protocols. The Convention 'baptized' both categories of consuls, gave them a legal status, invested them with the UN authority and gave them global reach and recognition. Over ninety countries as well as several international organizations attended the Conference. It came into force on 19 March 1967. To date, the Vienna Convention has been ratified by over 130 countries.

The Vienna Convention provides for two categories of consuls: Career consuls and honorary consuls. The Convention does not define the honorary consul. But it distinguishes between career consuls and honorary consuls in terms of legal status.

Career consuls are state officials employed by the sending country while honorary consuls are public dignitaries-politicians, economists, personalities in the finance, banking, cultural field, law and other professions-with financial independence.

Honorary consuls are either citizens of the receiving States, or of a third Country with permanent residency in the receiving States. They carry out the assigned mission in the "receiving States" in the interest of the "sending state" and their citizens. In accordance with international practice, honorary consuls do not receive any regular payment or salary for their work. Honorary consuls do exactly the same work as career diplomats of the same rank. They are heads of missions. In fact, in capitals of the States, honorary consuls act as Ambassadors.

Born nearly one thousand years before the official consular corps, it would not be wrong to hold the institution of honorary consuls as the mother of consular service. It is an irony that the mother today is rated below the child in certain matters of privileges.

Having come out with flying colors in all climes and contingencies, the office of honorary consul is once again experiencing a renaissance in the 21st Century, due partly to the continuous development of communication encompassing all areas of life and partly to the oft -witnessed decline in the financial resources made available to the foreign services. The economic sense underlying their functioning has made honorary consuls more and more sought after and has led to more and more honorary consuls being appointed in preference over career consuls. They have earned high praise for their work from heads of states and governments.

After 'baptism' in 1963 of the honorary consul arose the need for bonding & brotherhood of widely scattered and functionally self -centered consuls. This deeply felt need was fulfilled on 2nd October in 1982 when Federation International des Corps et Associations Consularies-FICAC-(now also called World Federation of Consuls) was founded in Copenhagen by a small group of visionaries led by Consuls General Vagn Jespersen of Denmark. This body gave consuls of the world a much -needed forum to share experiences and co-ordinate efforts to enhance their status and effectiveness and to bring together Consular Associations and Corps from all around the globe.

Consuls are of two categories-career consuls and honorary consuls. In practical terms, the difference between a career consular officer and an honorary one is that the latter does not belong to the official diplomatic and consular cadre of the sending state. He is not a state-employee, and is a well-known and respectable citizen or permanent resident of the receiving state. Furthermore, service as an honorary consul is usually not his or her main source of income.

An honorary consul is normally appointed by countries who do not wish to spend substantial amounts required to position a career consul in the receiving States. Even for States with great financial capabilities, the increase of cultural, touristic , economic and trade relations with distant places of the world have rendered the performance of consular functions only through diplomatic missions exceedingly difficult, due to the very nature of the fact that embassies are located only in the capitals of the receiving states while even the richest states may not be able to afford setting up consulates headed by career consuls in every important city of a receiving State where such offices may be required in their own interests.

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. Appointing an honorary consul saves them the cost of supporting staff and sending out their own citizens as full time diplomatic representatives abroad. 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 caliber and level of their service is highly professional and in no way less than of career consuls.

Work Appreciated

Honorary consuls have earned high praise for their work from heads of states and governments. Governor Cahit Kirac of Turkey said that "The service that honorary consuls and consulates give to the countries that they represent is indispensable." Sri Lankan President Mahindra Rajapaksa said: "Your role as Honorary Consuls is as important as Ambassadors representing our country. Indeed, I consider all of you as de facto Ambassadors". Netherlands Prime Minister Jan Peter Bakenende summed up Honorary Consuls' importance thus: You are committed to serving the interests of Netherlands, and its people. You are with us in good times and bad. You give us your time, your energy, your friendship and your devotion. No price can be put on that." Malaysian Minister of foreign Affairs Dato' Seri Syed Hamid Albar, said: Your (Honorary consuls) contribution is more profound because you do this job without any compensation from the Government of Malaysia." Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht of Belgium said: "Honorary consuls are our ambassadors in the city or state where you live. You represent a piece of Belgium over there." Prime Minister of Malta, Lawrence Gonzi, addressing honorary consuls on 23 November 2006, said: ". we are not only aware of but also profoundly grateful for your commitment to this role. We also acknowledge that your dedication is driven by a personal sense of service and not by the pursuit of profit." Czech Prime Minster Mirek Topolanek said :- "...a good honorary consul is a dream of every Prime Minister, every Minister of Finance and every Minister of Foreign Affairs. He carries out his mission as a career diplomat, but free of charge without the right for immunity."

Even after all these appreciations, Honorary Consuls suffer discrimination vis-a -vis career consuls for no reason. There are five areas in which discrimination hurts. These areas are:

• Vienna Convention does not consider them fit enough to deserve the same respect, the same dignity and the same freedom as extended to career consuls.

• For lack of CC/CD number plates, Honorary consuls are not as free to move as career consuls. (The Philippines is an exception.) in actual practice, consulate premises honorary consuls and imported office equipments procured by honorary consuls for officials use are not exempt from taxation whereas these are exempt in the case of career consuls. Al career consuls can buy articles for their officials use locally free of taxes. But not honorary consuls. There is no cogent reason for these discriminations.

After preparatory discussions in Accra conference and Prague conference, Monaco Conference gave a go-ahead to initiate action for review of Vienna Convention on Cultural Relations. A resolution to this effect was adopted in plenary session. The Resolution was endorsed by Board of Directors. Copies of the Resolution were sent, with a petition, to UN Secretary General and Chairman, International Law Commission requesting them to initiate a review of Vienna Convention. Copies of the Resolution and the Petition were also forwarded to all Foreign Ministers with a request to support our case for review of the Convention. FICAC President the Hon. Arnold Foote has been pursuing the matter with Secretary General, UNO and members of International Law Commission.

Kind Courtesy Hon'ble Mr. Kartar Singh Bhalla