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What is a Persona Non Grata?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2016
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Persona non grata is a Latin phrase which refers to a person who is not welcome. The term is used in a formal sense to describe the unwelcome presence of a diplomat, as for example when two countries are going to war with each other. It may also be used in a personal sense, when when an individual or group ignores another person. For example one might say, “In high school, I was persona non grata. I walked the halls but no one realized I existed.”

In the formal diplomatic sense, the status may be applied to a diplomat or a member of the diplomatic staff who breaks the rules of the country in which he or she is visiting. A person who is a diplomat has diplomatic immunity from the laws of the country, but if he or she breaks the country’s laws, then he or she can be declared persona non grata and expelled from the country.

Another reason for the persona non grata declaration is if a diplomat is suspected of spying. A suspected spy will usually not be dealt with by the foreign country and will not be recognized as an authority of a representative country. A diplomat who is suspected of being a spy might be sent home and replaced by one who is not under suspicion.

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Sometimes, a person’s past may classify him or her as persona non grata. This was the case with Kurt Josef Waldheim, who served as Austria’s president from 1986 to 1992, and was the U.N. Secretary General from 1972 to 1981. Rumors of his knowledge or participation in Nazi war crimes led to a commissioning of historians to discover the truth. The assigned historians discovered Waldheim at the least had knowledge of certain Nazi war crimes.

To many European Nations and to the US, Waldheim became persona non grata, though some Austrians still claimed his innocence. During his presidency, Waldheim did not visit the countries that had given him this status, as they would not have welcomed him.

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