Consuls thank Luke Lee

Consuls thank Luke Lee

Why would I say the foreign consuls throughout our communities in the United States are grateful to Luke Lee? And, who’s this Luke Lee?

First of all, he passed away on January 7, 2015, at the age of 91 in Bethesda, MD.  so our gratitude must be for the legacy he leaves behind. Consuls everywhere – not just in the United States – share my feelings of gratitude.

Regrettably, most consuls haven’t even heard his name. I may have been different in that I, as a student of consular law at the University of Helsinki Law School, idolized this man. Doing research on my dissertation I had “met” him while digging for an authoritative source, and – as I was soon to learn – Luke Lee was the pinnacle. Years later, while serving as an honorary consul in Miami we exchanged letters with each other and he seemed happily curious when I shared my Helsinki research recollections with him.

As I had learned, the law on consuls was initially mostly unwritten and, therefore ambiguous. But things changed in 1961 when Professor Lee’s seminal book, Consular Law and Practice, was published. The first edition (since, updated and co-authored by Professor John Quigley) was quickly recognized as the first systematized analysis of consular law.

Just two years later (1963) the book was the basis for the delegates who gathered in Vienna to consider a multilateral treaty on consular law. Today we know this as the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

As Professor Quigley says, “Lee’s work became a foundation for consular law, a fundamental basis for international relations.” He also points out that “consuls unsure of their rights consult (it) when they get into a sticky situation with the receiving state. Those states … use (it) to determine their obligations towards consuls.”

These are serious matters of law but that’s not the point of this blog post. Rather, my goal is to raise the awareness of the gratitude consuls should express for Luke Lee. By understanding their rights under current international law they carry forward his legacy.

Luke T. Lee was born in Fuzhou, China on June 28, 1923. He earned an A.B. from St. John’s University in Shanghai in 1944. Arriving in the United States in 1946 with limited financial means, he continued his studies, earning a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1947, a Ph.D. from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1954, a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 1959 and a Certificate from The Hague Academy of International Law. A prolific writer, he authored, co-authored, and edited over 100 publications.

One of his surviving daughters, Hsueh-tze Lee of Boston, points out that her father’s scholarly passion extended beyond the consular area to the advancement of international laws for the protection of human rights of all women, children and refugees. He was also the highest-ranking Asian-American in the Executive Service at the U.S. Dept. of State, where he worked for twenty years.

When the foreign consuls throughout communities in the United States ponder their individual rights or overall legal standing the name of Luke Lee is usually not the authority coming to mind. But it should be, for instance when they ask who/what defines a consul’s right of access to a jailed national. Or, when they want an answer to the commonly confusing conundrum of who/what determines the functional immunity of a consul. The current law, and the history and rationale behind it, on situations like these are only a book cover away.

For his work on clarifying the rights and status of all foreign consuls everywhere, Professor Luke T. Lee will always be our beacon.