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Consular Conundrums: Exploring the Dilemma of Dual Nationality

In the dynamic landscape of contemporary international relations, the intricacies surrounding dual nationality have emerged as a pertinent and complex challenge, particularly in the context of consular access. While the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations meticulously outlines consular rights and obligations among treaty parties, the glaring absence of a specific provision addressing the treatment of individuals with dual nationalities leaves a critical void. In today's interconnected world, globalization has blurred traditional borders and addressing the consular conundrum of dual nationality is a vital imperative for fostering effective international relations. This article aims to delve into the nuances of this issue, proposing a comprehensive understanding of the principles of predominant nationality to guide consular relations in the face of emerging global complexities.

Introduction to Consular Relations

The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR), ratified by numerous states, meticulously outlines consular relations among treaty parties. Consular access is a reciprocal right, granting detained individuals the right to contact consular representatives of their nationality. Simultaneously, consular officials have the right to meet and advocate for their nationals in custody.


The VCCR has been invoked in numerous instances, providing a clear framework for procedural and substantive law. However, it is noteworthy that the treaty lacks a specific provision addressing the treatment of individuals with dual nationalities. This omission leaves a gap in resolving cases involving dual nationality, necessitating recourse to alternative sources. Even the drafting history, the travaux préparatoires, addressed only conflicts in dual nationality between the receiving and sending states, rather than providing a comprehensive solution for all scenarios.


The Acquisition of Nationality in International Law


The acquisition of a state's nationality for the purposes of diplomatic protection purposes occurs through birth, succession of states, or naturalization. While the grant of nationality falls under the domain of state sovereignty, allowing states to freely legislate on conferring nationality, this freedom comes with the caveat of constraints placed by international law, as outlined in the draft articles on diplomatic protection. The challenge lies in defining and understanding the limits set by international law, questioning whether the legality of conferred nationality is a clear or ambiguous matter.


Diplomatic protection relies on the link of nationality between the state and the injured individual. The International Court of Justice, in the 'Nottebohm' case, emphasized the significance of a "genuine connection" or "bond of attachment" between an individual and a state for the validity of nationality in international law. The court ruled against recognizing Nottebohm's Liechtenstein nationality, emphasizing his stronger ties to Guatemala due to prolonged residence and substantial business interests. This ruling established the 'Genuine Link' principle, prioritizing a substantive and effective connection over the naturalization process.


In cases where an individual holds two or more validly acquired nationalities, resolving the issue becomes complex. The precedent set by the 'Nottebohm' case indicates that the nationality with a stronger genuine link would prevail, but navigating such situations requires careful consideration of the specific circumstances and applicable international legal principles.


The Concept of Dominant Nationality


In Draft Article 7 concerning diplomatic protection, the term 'predominant' is pivotal, indicating the relative strength of ties to one state over another when dealing with individuals holding multiple nationalities.


The acknowledgment of dominant and effective nationality has evolved into customary practice, serving as the standard for addressing dual or multiple nationals. The origins of this custom can be traced to The Mergé claim, which explicitly affirmed the Nottebohm 'Genuine Link' principle. The Italian-United States Conciliation Commission, in the absence of clear treaty provisions on dual nationality, established the test of dominant or effective nationality as a general principle of law. It asserted that the principle of state sovereignty must yield to the effective nationality when it aligns with that of the claiming state. The Conciliation Commission applied the rule of dominant and effective nationality in over 50 cases of dual nationals, a precedent also followed by The Iran-United States Claims Tribunal.


While access to consular representatives is an indisputable right for a detained national under the VCCR provisions, the right to Consular Access of a non-dominant nationality is typically extended as a courtesy by the host government when a dual national is present in one of their countries of nationality. According to Article 5 of The Hague Convention on Certain Questions Relating to the Conflict of Nationality Laws, "a person with more than one nationality shall be treated as if he had only one." The Convention further asserts that, without prejudice to the application of its law in matters of personal status and any applicable conventions, a third State should exclusively recognize, within its territory, either the nationality of the country where the individual is habitually and principally resident or the nationality of the country to which they seem most closely connected in the circumstances. Special Rapporteur García Amador and Orrego Vicuña advocated, in their respective reports to the Commission on State Responsibility and the International Law Association, that in cases of dual or multiple nationality, the right to bring a claim should be exercisable only by the State with which the alien has the stronger and more genuine legal or other ties.


The extensive evidence of Opinio juris and state practice attests to the existence of customary practice. In matters of reconciling dual nationalities where explicit treaty provisions are absent, the principle of effective nationality should be applied to favour the predominant nationality. Although Draft Article 7 on diplomatic protection does not define the factors for determining predominant nationality, the ILC commentary provides a comprehensive, albeit non-exhaustive, list of indicators. These factors include habitual residence, the duration of time spent in the country before and after naturalization, place, curricula, language of education, employment and financial interests, place of family life, family ties, visits to the state of nationality, and more.




In conclusion, the consular conundrum of dual nationality poses a multifaceted challenge in international law. Navigating this complex terrain requires a nuanced understanding of the principles of predominant nationality. As the legal landscape continues to evolve, it is imperative for scholars, policymakers, and legal practitioners to actively engage in ongoing research and discourse. By doing so, we not only refine our understanding but also contribute to shaping the future of consular relations in the dynamic context of dual nationality. The broader implications of this issue on international relations underscore the importance of continued exploration and adaptation to emerging legal complexities.

Author: Malvika Sethi

University and year: Jindal Global Law School, 2nd Year

Programme: BALLB (Hons.)


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