Diplomats and ambassadors posted worldwide are among the most senior delegates in their diplomatic corps. They are highly appreciated in the host countries and perceived as friends to the state. But quite often, they forget their boundaries and cross the line.
Particularly, amid the superpower rivalry, and growing stake in the Global South, it seems western diplomats are often meddling with their host countries' internal affairs. Such meddling is creating a grey area as they are doing so in the name of rights issues. The recent events and patterns of meddling suggest that these interferences are related to an orientalist lens that downplays Global South's consciousness.
Diplomat's role in host countries
The primary role of a Diplomat posted in the host country is to maintain and nurture political relations. They also focus on economic ties. They also promote their national interest and negotiate with key stakeholders.
Another important responsibility for the diplomatic mission is to provide updates about the country's socio-political-economic situation. Apart from that, Diplomatic missions also look after the security and well-being of their citizens abroad. Even though Diplomats enjoy immunity under Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR), they also have certain boundaries they are not allowed to cross. Diplomatic missions can not interfere in a country's domestic affairs, such as patronizing political parties or influencing public perceptions regarding domestic issues. They also can not engage in any activity that undermines the sovereignty of a country. They are also prohibited from taking any part in matters that threaten the territorial integrity of a nation. And lastly, they are not allowed to undertake any spying or espionage activities.
Under VCDR, host countries can summon the diplomats and ask for an explanation or protest over the matter if any of the above boundaries are crossed. Under grave circumstances, the host country can request to withdraw or announce the individual persona non grata and expel him.
Diplomats in Global South: Why they are being summoned or warned?
As Western countries prioritize rights issues such as Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Speech in their foreign policies, diplomats have often interfered in the domestic affairs of their host countries for the past few months. For instance, last week, on October 19th, Jordan rejected comments made by the Dutch Ambassador on the country's media licensing policy and freedom of speech ranking. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) also expressed solidarity with Jordan and protested over the issue. Nicaragua has also cut off its diplomatic ties with the Netherlands accusing the country of 'interventionism .'The government also accuses Netherlands of having a colonial mindset.
Thousands of people protested in October in Ethiopia against 'foreign intervention' as the Western countries support rebel forces, Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), and its allies. In the same way, Iran summoned the French Ambassador over meddling in Anti-Hijab protests by the French ministries.
Regarding the next general election, Bangladesh Information Minister also had to remind foreign delegates not to meddle in internal affairs. Even though the western diplomats are calling for a 'free and fair election, their stance and media presence is creating a false narrative within the country that the western countries are backing the opposition parties directly.
A tendency to downplay?
Western interests relating to rights issues and values are a grey area in diplomatic relations as these issues are mostly considered internal issues unless global standards are violated. Many of these issues do not have universality yet. One of the prominent authors of Human Rights, Jack Donnelly, also argued that there are gaps between theory and practice as not all rights have universality. For instance, LGBTQ rights may sound perfect for the West but contradict the Middle East's Muslim culture.
As a result, the issues often lead to a conflict between interests and interference. For instance, rights issues are on Western delegates’ priority list, but their efforts often cross the boundary and create interference. Moreover, the comments, activities, and media presence may influence public perception about a matter, which also falls within the interference. For instance, the Western delegates' continuous speech related to 'a free and fair' election in Bangladesh creates a perception within the mass that the West may be backing up the opposition party and has antagonizing relations with the incumbent government.
And lastly, by downplaying tradition and laws, diplomats may tend to globalize their country's standard regarding human rights and democracy. The idea is very old, 'One Size fits all. Such motivations are the main reasons behind the misunderstandings. Critical Scholars such as Slavoj Zizek also argued that the western prescription of democracy might not work in all regions of the world.
With the rise of superpower rivalry and polarization in global politics, the Global North relies on its values and norms to get the upper hand. But often, their top delegates forget their boundaries and downplay the self-determination of the Global South. However, they should not do such as it is detrimental to diplomatic relations and is disrespectful to diplomatic norms. The issue also reveals the orientalism and hegemonic understanding of the Global South. The West must not have such a mindset. Instead, the Saidian argument should prevail for a better world, "The Orient should be understood as it is."
Shoumik Malhotra is a Research Associate at The Center for Border Studies, O.P Jindal University