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Customs and 1961 Vienna convention on diplomatic relations – Part 3

By Ben Nkem Oramalugo
12 May 2022   |   1:50 am
From the above, it is clear that customs has no right to collect duty or impose taxes on the personal and official goods of diplomats and their families (In violation of CEMA), except on a serious suspicion of import or export of contraband goods. However, suspicion is a controversial issue in international law. Nevertheless, it…

Customs

From the above, it is clear that customs has no right to collect duty or impose taxes on the personal and official goods of diplomats and their families (In violation of CEMA), except on a serious suspicion of import or export of contraband goods. However, suspicion is a controversial issue in international law. Nevertheless, it has yielded positive results in some occasions. For example in 1984, Israeli secret agents and few Nigerians attempted to smuggle Umaru Dikko (Former Nigeria Minister of Transport 1979-1983) out of London, in a diplomatic container. It was this “Suspicion Clause” in 1961 Vienna Convention that was invoked, which empowered London Security agents to open the diplomatic container and rescued Umaru Dikko.

Without prejudice to the presidential order that anti- Smuggling activities should not exceed beyond l0 kms to the border, we all know that CEMA permits customs to engage in anti  – smuggling activities at the point of entry and distribution. No wonder, we see customs invading markets, ware houses etc, in search of contraband goods.

Within this Context, 1961 Vienna Convention disallows customs to carrying out their anti- Smuggling activities within the embassy premises and residence of diplomats and their Families. Article 22 of 1961 Vienna Convention States that the premises of embassies and residences of staff are inviolable. It then means that customs cannot carry out anti-Smuggling activities in the above places. This is absolute immunity. This needs to be emphasized, otherwise one day, we may wake up to hear that over zealous custom officers have invaded embassy houses and diplomat residential houses in search of contraband goods.
 
Nevertheless, there are few exceptions to the above. The storage of arms and ammunition smuggled into the receiving state, on the premises of the diplomatic mission, is a violation of Article 41 (3) and as such might lead to a closure of the mission and rupture of diplomatic relations between the sending state and the receiving state where it is clear that the home authorities of the diplomatic mission had approved or encouraged such activity (Alaba Ogunsanwo 2016). Though, it was not perpetrated by customs, a good example of the “Inviolability Clause” was violated in November 4, 1979 when Iranian mob invaded American embassy in Teheran in Iran. This lasted for 444 days.

The world rose in unison to condemn this dastardly act. America and her allies imposed sanctions on Iran and supported Iraq against Iran in the war of 1980-1988 for violating 1961 Convention. Since this incident, no event of this magnitude has ever occurred.

If we allow these misunderstandings to continue which might result to infractions of anti- Vienna Convention (If any) to continue, there are repercussions. The international community may decide to report customs administration of any ECOWAS country, to their seats of Government, ECOWAS, African Union, United Nations Etc. It would not be palatable to these erring states, because most of their economies are import dependent economies.

They need foreign direct investment to survive. Having this kind of   horrendous    character, would  ill from foreign partners. In international relations, we have what we call principle of “reciprocity”. In other words, the measure you give, is the measure you receive. If this impunity continues to be on ascending order, instead of descending order, the international community might have no other option than to impose retaliatory measures on our diplomats abroad. It might not be descent to the ears to hear that Nigeria customs or any other custom administration in ECOWAS  territory is the harbinger of this obnoxious diplomatic blunder. Few years ago, South Africa deported some Nigerians over infraction on Yellow Fever inoculation cards regulations, Nigeria retaliated by deporting more South Africans from Nigeria. That was the power of reciprocity at work.

We can avoid or reduce this impending diplomatic Armageddon by indulging in the following steps. Most of the Custom Officers and other Security agencies are ignorant of existing international Laws. Nemo dat quord non-baset (You don’t give what you don’t have). Therefore, they need to be educated. It is the View of this paper that the curriculum of the training colleges of Customs and other Security services should be restructured to include international law, where Vienna Convention and other international treaties, conventions etc will be taught comprehensively. The management can originate circulars specifying the details and consequences of violating 1961 Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.

Also seminars can also be organized for officers and men of various security agencies in our international airports on the above conventions. When this is done, slowly but surely, Officers will grasp the rudiment of international laws because the world is a global village. Above all, reward and punishment scheme must be introduced. Those who treat diplomats with respect and dignity should be rewarded while Officers that engage in these archaic asinine behaviors must be punished to serve as a deterrent to others.
 Concluded
 Dr. Oramalugo is an expert in history, strategic studies, International politics and diplomacy and a fellow of Nigeria Institute of Management (Chartered).