Article 41(1): Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.
Article 41(2): All official business with the receiving State entrusted to the mission by the sending State shall be conducted with or through the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the receiving State or such other ministry as may be agreed. [1961 Vienna Convention]
Recently in a discussion meeting of Diplomatic Association of Bangladesh (DCAB), outgoing British High Commissioner to Bangladesh Mr. Stephen Evans has opined that the political violence and instability is much bigger a threat to Bangladeh than the threat posed by global warming. In this meeting Mr. Evans stated that he had repeatedly conveyed to all political parties over the past three years, strongly encouraging the government and the opposition, to engage in constructive politics and hold dialogue to resolve the issues. He specifically mentioned that Khaleda Zia should return to parliament and play effective role in the House by participating in parliamentary debates, scrutinising government policies and decisions, and making constructive criticism. No doubt, such audacious remark and sermons to political leaders in the context of our domestic politics is a sharp violation of Vienna Convention. Moreover, we are not sure whether the diplomat received the required permission from the Foreign Ministry in attending the said meeting of DCAB. Diplomats in a country are entitled to get immunity but the preconditions of this immunity are explicitly mentioned in the Convention as mentioned above.
Not only the Vienna Convention, Article 25(1) of our constitution also dictates that, “The State shall base its international relations on the principle of respect for national sovereignty and equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, peaceful settlements of international disputes, and respect for international law and the principles enunciated in the United Nations Charter…”
So, diplomats have no right at all to interfere in our internal politics as par Vienna Convention and also as par laws of the land.
However, on the part of Diplomats, especially from the West along with the USA such interference is nothing new phenomenon in our country. Especially, 1/11 episode of Bangladesh politics in 2007-2008 witnessed the foul games played by foreign diplomats of various countries in our internal political stage. During that turmoil political scenario of the country, foreign diplomats nakedly interfered and intervened the domestic politics of the country violating all norms of the diplomacy. Shuttling of former US Ambassador Ms. Patricia Butenis, former British High Commissioner Mr. Anwar Choudhury, former UN Resident Coordinator Renata Lok Dessalian and some other diplomats to different political parties with a view to ‘diffuse’ the political tension in the country surrounding the Parliamentary Election crossed all the silver lines of diplomacy and surfaced the ugliest manifestation of their vested interests.
Especially the role of Ms. Reneta was the most offensive for her conspiracy theory which ultimately led the country at stake. It may be noted that in the context of volatile situation surrounding the national election on 10th January, 2007 UN General Secretary Ban Ki Mun asked for election on the basis of compromise by all parties and hoped for a free and fair role of the Army. But surprisingly, the following day, 11th January Reneta issued a circular on behalf of UN stating, “election without all parties’ participation and Army’s regular duty in the election would put a question mark on the election procedure… In future, it will be bad for Bangladesh Defence Force to participate in the UN Peace Keeping Mission.” In this way, she gave warning against the Army’s participation in the UN Peace Keeping Mission and made the Army confused. Eventually on the same day the Army compelled Prof. Ieaz Uddin, former President and also the Chief Adviser of the Caretaker Government to declare emergency and later to install Army-backed Caretaker Government at the power centre.
The above case implies that if any sovereign state does not tame the foreign diplomats following Vienna Convention in time then that may create a catastrophic situation for a nation.
Bangladesh after 2008 National Election has started a new phase of democracy. At this stage we need to be vigilant against any sort of conspiracy which may disrupt the smooth passage of democracy.
Ironically it seems that the leaders of our political parties have not learnt any lesson from 1/11 events. The tragedy is that most of them are short-sighted, incompetent and interested more in grabbing and holding power than in serving the true interests of the people. Instead of peoples’ support they seek support of the certain foreign countries either to stay in power or to install themselves at the power-centre. For this, they give the privilege to foreign diplomats and the diplomats take the advantage to realise the vested interests of their respective countries.
In this context, we may mention the recent meeting of our opposition leader Ms. Khaleda Zia with her British counterpart where the domestic politics of Bangladesh got priority. Bringing the domestic political issues in a meeting with the leaders of foreign countries, no doubt, exposes bankruptcy of the leadership. Similarly, we cannot appreciate our Honourable Prime Minister when she bitterly criticised the opposition leader in a foreign soil.
Not only the politicians, our Medias (both electronic and printing) also give opportunity to foreign diplomats in involving themselves in our domestic politics. Perhaps due to colonial mindset, our media unnecessarily emphasis the utterance of foreign diplomats concerning our internal politics. This, in turn, encourages the diplomats to interfere further. Especially, it has been noted that at the critical juncture of our politics, many of our journalists consider the foreign diplomats as our ‘savours’ and inquisitively seek opinions on our domestic politics.
We wish, for the greater interest of our democracy and sovereignty, our political leaders, journalists along with other concerned people will change their colonial mindset and warn the foreign diplomats the moment they poke their ugly noses into our own domestic affairs. After all, Bangladesh is not a vassal state of any other country of the world!
(Md. Anwarul Kabir is a university academic and a freelance writer.