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Consular Notification and Access

NCJ Number
Corrections Today Volume: 64 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2002 Pages: 42-45
Rachel L. Cooke
Date Published
4 pages
This article examines the notification and access rights inherent in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR) and other bilateral treaties, explains why they are important, and describes how correctional officers can comply with the obligations created by these rights
When a foreigner is arrested, it is important that consular officers offer assistance and guide the detainee through the legal system. This right was codified in the Vienna Convention on Consular Rights (VCCR). More than 165 countries have agreed to abide by the terms of the VCCR. The VCCR states that arresting authorities must inform foreign detainees that they have the right to have their respective consulate notified of their detention. It also affords consular officers the right to have access to detainees. Consular officers are commissioned to perform certain duties on behalf of their governments. They are either members of a country’s foreign service or are local residents appointed by the foreign government to perform consular duties. VCCR establishes basic customary international law obligations, including notification and access rights of consuls when a national of their particular country is detained or arrested. It does not specify a particular process but instead provides general guidelines. There are two types of rules about notification: the Basic Rule versus the “mandatory” rule. The basic rule is noted in VCCR: ask all foreign detainees if they want their consulate notified of their detention. Mandatory notification is a provision of some bilateral treaties. For citizens of those countries with which the United States has mandatory notification agreements, the consulate must be notified without delay, regardless of the detainee’s wishes. Because these obligations are not uniformly administered throughout the United States, there is the possibility that when a foreign national is placed is U.S. jails they have not been advised of this right. The article then examines ways for corrections’ officials to meet the notification requirements of the VCCR and bilateral treaties. There are many reasons why providing notification and access are important, and there are many ways in which consuls can help detaining officials. The most important reason to abide by these obligations is reciprocity. The Department of State must ensure that U.S. consuls always assist Americans detained in foreign countries.