Diplomatic Pouch: Definition and Features

The Pouch , Within the framework of international relations, is a container used by a government, official entities, consulates or other official representations to send correspondence and documents to its representatives abroad (diplomatic mission).

This type of suitcases or pouches are applied strict legal protections to guarantee their inviolability.

Diplomatic Pouch: Definition and Features ISD Diplomatic Pouch - Institute for the Study of Diplomacy

A diplomatic pouch always has some kind of lock plus a tamper-evident seal next to the lock in order to prevent the interference of unauthorized third parties. The most important point is that, as long as it is marked externally to show its status, that bag has diplomatic immunity, as opposed to a requisition or seizure, codified in article 27 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.

According to this convention, the diplomatic bag should contain only materials intended for official use. He is often escorted by a diplomatic courier, who is equally immune to arrest and confiscation.

The physical concept of a diplomatic pouch is broad and therefore can take many forms: a cardboard box, a briefcase, a backpack, a large suitcase, a box or even a shipping container.

The latter type of container has adequate strength to withstand handling, hauling and storage. In terms of size, it ranges from large reusable steel boxes for intermodal shipments (container designed to be transferred from one mode of transport to another without discharging and recharging), to the traditional and well known corrugated cardboard boxes.

Definition of diplomatic bag according to the Department of State of the United States

Diplomatic Pouch: Definition and Features 1 An employee of the United States Department of State dealing with the American diplomatic courier in January 1985 at the Washington-Dulles International Airport

The diplomatic bag is any package, bag, envelope, suitcase or other properly identified and sealed container used to carry official mail, documents and other articles intended for official use, between:

  • Embassies, delegations, consular posts or the foreign office of any government.
  • The headquarters or any other office of a public international organization and its offices Regional organizations in the United States or in a foreign country.
  • The foreign office of any country with full full membership to carry out a specific mission in a public organization.

Inviolability of diplomatic exchanges

In accordance with article 27, paragraph 3, of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR): "Duly identified diplomatic bags will not be opened or stopped."

Although inspection of an X-ray bag would not physically break the outer seal of the shipment, that action constitutes an electronic method equivalent to the action of opening a bag.

For these reasons, the United States does not investigate diplomatic exchanges that are correctly identified and manipulated, either physically or electronically (for example, by X-rays). Moreover, they consider it a serious breach of the obligations imposed by the Vienna Convention.

Size and weight of diplomatic bags

International law does not establish limits on the size, weight or permissible quantity of properly identified diplomatic bags. The United States therefore considers that the size, weight and quantity restrictions imposed by the receiving State are inconsistent with the obligations set forth in Article 25 of the VCDR.

Identification of diplomatic exchanges

Diplomatic exchanges must carry"visible external marks of their character", (VCDR, Article 27.4). Therefore, a diplomatic bag that moves in or out of the United States must:

  1. Have easily visible marks on the outside of the bag, envelope, drawer or container, clearly identifying it in English as a diplomatic bag.
  2. Bring, externally, the official seal of the sending entity (seal of lead or plastic that adheres to a tie that closes the bag or a seal fixed to the outside of the same).
  3. To be addressed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, its embassies, delegations, consular offices, the headquarters or offices of an international organization.
  4. Where applicable, all associated shipping documents, such as air shipping guides and labels, should describe the English shipping as a diplomatic bag.

Accompanied and unaccompanied diplomatic bags

The United States considers that properly identified diplomatic bags carried in the cabin or hold of an aircraft, ship, train or motor vehicle are accompanied by a diplomatic courier when a representative travels as a passenger on the same transport with an official document which Please indicate your status (VDCR, article 27.5).

Diplomatic couriers enjoy inviolability and are not subject to any form of arrest or detention. However, the person and personal luggage of a diplomatic messenger are subject to normal security controls and customs procedures.

Non-accredited diplomatic couriers will enjoy personal inviolability only for as long as they have the diplomatic bag under their care. On the contrary, when no diplomat travels in the same transport, diplomatic exchanges are said to be unaccompanied. In these cases can be entrusted to the captain of the transport.


  1. Boczek, Boleslaw Adam (2005). International Law: A Dictionary. Scarecrow Press. Pp. 51-52. ISBN 0-8108-5078-8. Retrieved on 01/25/2017 at wikipedia.org.
  2. Diplomatic bag: The inside story. BBC News. March 10, 2000. Retrieved on 01/25/2017 at wikipedia.org.
  3. Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961. United Nations. Page 8. Recovered on 01/25/2017.
  4. Boczek, Boleslaw Adam (2005). International Law: A Dictionary. Scarecrow Press. Pp. 51-52. ISBN 0-8108-5078-8. Retrieved on 01/25/2017.
  5. Dictionary of International Trade:"Container:... must be b) specially designed to facilitate the carriage of goods by one or more modes of transport without intermediate reloading. ... Ocean shipping containers are generally 10, 20, 30, or 40 feet long... and conform to ISO standards". Retrieved on 01/25/2017 at wikipedia.org.
  6. Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. Retrieved on 01/26/2017.
  7. Diplomatic bags. USES. Department of State. Diplomacy in action. Retrieved on 01/26/2017 at state.gov.
  8. Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961. United Nations.

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