The Secretary of State to the German Chargé (Dieckhoff)

Sir: I have received the Ambassador’s note of May 18, 1926, requesting to be furnished a compilation of the provisions of law that have reference to the privileges and immunities of persons belonging to foreign missions. He states that your Government would attach special importance to having authentic information as to how far exemption from civil and criminal jurisdiction, including that of the administrative and police courts of the country, and obligation to testify is granted.

In reply I have the honor to draw your attention to Sections 4062, 4063, 4064 and 4065 of the Revised Statutes of the United States which provide as follows:

  • “Section 4062. Every person who violates any safe conduct or passport duly obtained and issued under authority of the United States; or who assaults, strikes, wounds, imprisons, or in any other [Page 549] manner offers violence to the person of a public minister, in violation of the law of nations, shall be imprisoned for not more than three years, and fined, at the discretion of the court.
  • “Section 4063. Whenever any writ or process is sued out or prosecuted by any person in any court of the United States, or of a State, or by any judge or justice, whereby the person of any public minister of any foreign prince or state, authorized and received as such by the President or any domestic or domestic servant of any such minister, is arrested or imprisoned, or his goods or chattels are distrained, seized, or attached, such writ or process shall be deemed void.
  • “Section 4064. Whenever any writ or process is sued out in violation of the preceding section, every person by whom the same is obtained or prosecuted, whether as party or as attorney or solicitor, and every officer concerned in executing it, shall be deemed a violator of the laws of nations and a disturber of the public repose, and shall be imprisoned for not more than three years, and fined at the discretion of the court.
  • “Section 4065. The two preceding sections shall not apply to any case where the person against whom the process is issued is a citizen or inhabitant of the United States, in the service of a public minister, and the process is founded upon a debt contracted before he entered upon such service; nor shall the preceding section apply to any case where the person against whom the process is issued is a domestic servant of a public minister, unless the name of the servant has, before the issuing thereof, been registered in the Department of State, and transmitted by the Secretary of State to the marshal of the District of Columbia, who shall upon receipt thereof post the same in some public place in his office.”

The immunity from criminal prosecution and civil process and from the obligation to testify is considered to apply to a foreign diplomatic representative, his secretaries, attachés, including military, naval and commercial attachés, employees, members of his household, including his family, and domestic servants. Employees or servants of diplomatic missions are entitled to the immunities in question regardless of their nationality with the exception of one case provided for in Section 4065 of the Revised Statutes—namely where process is founded upon a debt contracted before the employee or servant entered the service of the mission.

Names of members of foreign legations and foreign embassies in the United States entitled to diplomatic immunities, down to and including the grade of attaché, are published in the Diplomatic List. The names of other persons entitled to such immunities are contained in the List of Employees in the Embassies and Legations in Washington Not Printed in the Diplomatic List. In a circular note of January 27, 1906, addressed by the Department to the diplomatic missions in Washington, the Department made the following statement:

“It has been determined in the future publications by this Department of the Diplomatic List to include only such officials and attachés [Page 550] of foreign missions in this country as are not citizens of the United States.

“It is not to be understood by this that this Government has any objection to the employment by embassies and legations of American citizens as counselors, but the inclusion of the names of such persons in the diplomatic lists would seem to warrant the assumption that such person might be called upon to participate in the diplomatic representation of the country to whose service he may appear to be attached—a presumption to which this Department considers it inadvisable to give any support.”

Ambassadors and Ministers accredited to the United States and the members of their households, including secretaries, attaches, and servants, who are not citizens of the United States, are exempted from the payment of Federal income tax upon their salaries, fees and wages, and upon the income derived by them from investments in the United States in stocks and bonds, and from interest on bank balances in the United States. The income derived from any business carried on by them in the United States would, however, be taxable.

Property in the District of Columbia owned by foreign governments for Embassy and Legation purposes is exempt from general and special taxes or assessments. Property owned by an Ambassador or Minister and used for Embassy or Legation purposes is exempt from general taxes but not from special assessments for improvements. The payment of water rent is required in all cases, as this is not regarded as a tax but the sale of a commodity.

The taxes on the sales of automobiles and jewelry provided for in Sections 600 and 604 of the Revenue Act of 1924 are taxes imposed upon the manufacturers of automobiles and upon the vendors of jewelry. In the collection of such taxes the Government looks to the manufacturer and to the vendor for the payment of the tax and not to the purchasers of the articles. For this reason and the further reason that the price of the article sold is a matter of negotiation between the vendor and the purchasers, the appropriate authorities of this Government have taken the position that no exemption from the payment of these taxes can be granted to the manufacturer or vendor by reason of the fact that the sale is made to a diplomatic representative of a foreign government.

The members of foreign diplomatic missions and foreign consular officers in the District of Columbia are exempt in the District from the payment of personal property taxes on automobiles and other personal property, either tangible or intangible, owned by them. They are furnished identification tags and operators’ permits for their automobiles, without charge, provided the applications made therefor bear the seal of the mission and the seal of the Department of State. It is understood [Page 551] that automobiles bearing District of Columbia tags are permitted to enter the several States without obtaining additional tags. Members of foreign diplomatic missions in the United States and foreign consular officers stationed in the District of Columbia are accordingly not required to pay the fees ordinarily charged other owners of automobiles in this country.

By an order dated July 8, 1921, the Collector of Taxes of the District of Columbia was authorized to issue dog licenses to foreign legations without charge.

Articles 404 and 405 of the United States Customs Regulations of 1923 provide for the granting of customs courtesies and the exemption from the payment of customs duties, to diplomatic and consular officers of foreign countries and outline the procedure to be followed by such officers in requesting these courtesies.

Under these regulations foreign ambassadors and ministers, and the secretaries and other attaches of foreign embassies and legations, and their families, are entitled to the free admission of their baggage and effects on their arrival in this country, whether they are stationed in the United States or are en route to missions in other countries. Subsequent to their arrival in the United States they are permitted to import, without the payment of duty, merchandise of any character, if intended for their use or for the use of their families.

Supplies intended for official use of foreign embassies and legations and foreign consulates in the United States, such as office furniture and office material, may be entered free of duty. Exemptions of consular officers from taxation and the payment of customs duties are specifically provided for in Articles XIX and XXVII of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Consular Rights between the United States and Germany concluded on December 8, 1923.89 Exhibits of the products of foreign countries, if forming a part of the permanent exhibitions in the consulates may also be admitted free of duty.

The granting of these customs exemptions to diplomatic officers of foreign countries is conditional upon the granting of similar exemptions to American diplomatic officers by those countries.

Any material imported by a foreign government to be used in constructing an embassy or legation building is exempted from the payment of customs duties.

Under a recent ruling of the Treasury Department mail parcels sealed and unsealed, addressed to a chief of mission in Washington, will be delivered free of duty without examination; such parcels addressed to a member of the family of a chief of mission, members of the diplomatic staff or their families, will hereafter be subject to customs [Page 552] inspection, although they will be admitted free of duty on the basis of reciprocity.

Accept [etc.]

For the Secretary of State:
Joseph C. Grew