Regime of privileges and immunities

Short recall of the privileges and immunities applicable to the international organizations based in Switzerland and to the permanent delegations in Geneva

The privileges and immunities enjoyed by international organizations in Switzerland and by permanent representations in Geneva (permanent missions, special missions, permanent observer bureaux of non-UN Member State, observer bureaux of inter-governmental organizations, etc.) rest in Switzerland on a legal foundation which includes the following:

  • the Federal Act on the privileges, immunities, exemptions and financial contributions granted by Switzerland as host state (Host State Act) of 22 June 2007 entered into force on 1 January 2008 and the Host State Ordinance of 7 December 2007 entered into force on 1 January 2008,
  • the headquarters agreements concluded with the international organizations,
  • the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 18 April 1961, applied by analogy by the decisions of the Federal Council of 31 March 1948 and 20 May 1958,
  • the practice of the Swiss government in respect of questions left open by the above mentioned texts.

This regime of privileges and immunities does not apply in exactly the same way to international organizations and their international civil servants as it does to permanent representations and their members.

With respect to international organizations established in Switzerland the basic reference document is always the headquarters agreement, which determines the privileges and immunities in Switzerland of the organization and its officials. For the UN, for example, this is the "Agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations Organization concluded between the Swiss Federal Council and the Secretary General of the United Nations Organizations" of June 11 / July 1, 1946 (RS Such agreements are published in the Systematized Collection of Federal Law (RS). Diplomatic status in international organizations is accorded to the heads, deputy heads and senior officials (p-5 and above).

The legal status of the prerogatives of permanent representations established in Geneva varies according to the type of such delegations. In brief, their regime is as follow:

  • The permanent missions and permanent observer bureaux of non-UN member states are regulated by the Vienna Convention referred to above, applied by analogy pursuant to the Decisions of the Federal Council of March 31, 1948 and May 20, 1958, as well as pursuant to certain other Decisions of the Federal Council and the practice of the Swiss government in the treatment of privileges and immunities.
  • The privileges and immunities of special missions are based mainly on the New York Convention on Special Missions referred to above and on Swiss practice.
  • By virtue of the decision of the Federal Council of July 14, 1964, the privileges and immunities of observer bureaux of inter-governmental organizations are the same as those of permanent missions.
  • Diplomatic status is generally accorded to the head of a representation and to members of its diplomatic staff in the strict sense.

The status of each such person is briefly defined on the back of the status card issued by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs which the Swiss Mission gives to the person in question in order to provide evidence of his prerogatives in Switzerland.

Specialist Contact

Permanent Mission of Switzerland to UNOG
Office of Privileges & immunities
Rue de Varembé 9-11
P.O. Box 194
CH-1211 Geneva 20
Tel. +41 (0)58 482 24 24
Fax +41 (0)58 482 24 37