Petraeus Scandal and International Law: The Honorary Consul

by Peter Spiro

Everyone else has a piece of this reality show, so why not international law? It turns out that Jill Kelley (for those of you not keeping score, here’s the roster) is the honorary consul of Korea in Tampa. She’s now looking to use the status defensively. From USA Today:

Jill Kelley, the socialite whose complaint to the FBI began the unraveling of the David Petraeus affair, has called police several times in the last few days, trying to invoke purported “diplomatic protection” to keep the media and public away from her Tampa home.

“You know, I don’t know if by any chance, because I’m an honorary consul general, so I have inviolability, so they should not be able to cross my property. I don’t know if you want to get diplomatic protection involved as well,” Kelley told a 911 dispatcher, who agreed to pass the information along to police.

Guess again. The status of honorary consuls is governed by chapter 3 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Her property is clearly not inviolable; article 31 does not apply to honorary consuls. As for the host government’s duty to protect, article 59 provides:

Protection of the Consular Premises

The receiving State shall take such steps as may be necessary to protect the consular premises of a consular post headed by an honorary consular officer against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the consular post or impairment of its dignity.

Unlike other provisions relating to honorary consuls, this one isn’t limited to “official acts”, and having all those reporters on your lawn is certainly dignity impairing. But it’s unlikely that her house qualifies as “consular premises,” which the Convention defines in article 1 as buildings “used exclusively for purposes of the consular post.”

Kelley’s immunity under the VCCR is otherwise limited to official acts. Does that mean Kelley doesn’t have to answer for slip-and-falls during a cocktail parties hosted in her capacity as Korea’s envoy? I wonder if the case will cast a small spotlight on the status. There are scores of honorary consuls out there (here’s a list of a couple of dozen for Philadelphia). Maybe there’s something more to it than special license plates and social cachet.

2 Responses

  1. How did she get appointed as Honorary Consul for South Korea? Did the US request that from SK as a special favour? Or can a host government, at its own discretion, appoint any of its nationals ( or non-nationals) to represent a foreign country?  I havn’t looked at the Vienna Convention, but I thought I’d ask in case there’s an obvious answer I’m not aware of.

  2. Blackstar,

    I cannot speak for the US or the particular position, but you may find this interesting

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