Published:  08:52 AM, 24 May 2023

Withdrawal of Diplomats' Extra Security Has No Diplomatic Value

Withdrawal of Diplomats' Extra Security Has No Diplomatic Value
The protocol of some foreign diplomats stationed in Bangladesh has recently generated a lot of media attention. It all began when news spread that the ambassadors or high commissioners of the United States, United Kingdom, India, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Japan based in Bangladesh would no longer be receiving the "extra security" that they had been provided with. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs assured that the government and the law enforcement agencies will ensure the security of foreign diplomats in a "much better and more efficient way" compared to many other countries. Despite the government's clarification of the matter, numerous groups are attempting to frame it in a different way to create confusion and damage Bangladesh's relations with its partners.

The US Embassy in Dhaka did not take a moment to make a statement that the host country is obliged to provide security to all diplomatic missions and diplomats. According to the statement, Bangladesh, the host country, has no right to deviate from its obligation to ensure the security of all diplomatic missions and diplomats as per the Vienna Convention. Deputy Chief Spokesperson Vedanta Patel stated once more that the security of US diplomatic missions and staff is crucial, in addition to keeping in mind the Vienna Convention on the subject of diplomat protection, at the regular press briefing of the US State Department on May 15.

Masood bin Momen, the foreign secretary of Bangladesh, clarified the government's position in light of these claims by stating that diplomats in Bangladesh have always received security in accordance with the Vienna Convention and will do so in the future. However, the decision to withdraw extra security was met with a barrage of condemnation without understanding the ground reality. There are discussions that may have a negative impact on bilateral relations between countries.

A few queries should be noted at the start. For instance, which countries have so far profited from the protocol? Bangladesh is home to embassies from numerous countries. No other country would have received additional protocol privileges, with the exception of the six countries that are currently debating withdrawal from the protocol.

In exceptional situations and for specific reasons, diplomats from the six countries were granted extraordinary security powers. The internal security structures of these countries and their connections to our country were taken into account. Again, some incidents happened internationally with these countries, and as a result, the need to improve their security came to the fore.

Following a grenade attack in Sylhet in May 2004, Anwar Chowdhury, the then-UK High Commissioner to Bangladesh, received increased security. Later, other high commissioners of the United Kingdom were also given similar security facilities. In response to concerns and demands from some embassies, the government began providing some undocumented additional manpower (escort facilities) to support the routine traffic movement with cars after the terrorist incident at Holy Artisan in 2016. That doesn't imply that other missions lack security or protocol.

Bangladesh adopted a kind of "zero-tolerance" militancy policy and immediately benefited from it. Now, it is clear that Bangladesh's security system is in a favorable position when compared to other countries when considering the Global Terrorism Index. Bangladesh is ranked 43, which is much better than Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, the UK, and even the United States. In contrast to the United States, where shootings in public areas are common, Bangladesh hardly ever sees such incidents. Briefly, the law and order situation in Bangladesh is normal and under control, so foreign diplomats do not need additional security.

US citizens are permitted to carry firearms when they are adults. Shooting incidents in various public places, including schools, colleges, and shopping malls, are common in that country. Such events frequently result in fatalities. There are also cases of Bangladeshis being killed. However, we are aware that the Bangladeshi ambassador to the United States receives no police protection, which in the current American political climate could be considered important.

The withdrawal of the escort or additional security of the ambassadors of the six countries will not violate the Vienna Convention or contradict any provision or convention of the UN charter. The Vienna Convention (1961) states that the host country shall ensure the security of embassies. The Convention does not require an escort to provide convenience but to ensure security, which Bangladesh has pledged to ensure.

One instance that comes to mind is when America jailed Devyani Khobragade, a top Indian ambassador. And in response to that occurrence, India has revoked all additional protection and diplomatic immunity for US diplomats stationed in India. However, there was little the USA could do or say to challenge that Indian decision.

Bangladeshi diplomats serving overseas are not provided with any additional security measures. Even at the missions in Bangladesh and in the homes of the heads of missions in a number of countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, no police security is provided. There is no separate gunman for them, either. Additionally, when police security is required for the organization of any particular national celebration of Bangladesh in missions abroad, the authorities of the concerned countries typically express their inability to provide security.

It is appropriate that Bangladesh recently announced that all ambassadors stationed here will have equal security. It is important to keep in mind that all diplomats, not only those from the six signatory countries, are subject to the Vienna Convention. Every state has equal standing in accordance with the UN Charter and the Vienna Convention. Bangladesh therefore acted in accordance with international norms and regulations.

Many countries are cutting spending and implementing austerity measures as a result of the economic unrest in the world as a result of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. In this situation, Bangladesh should not spend extra money on security. What would happen if other "influential" countries—such as China, Russia, Iran, and Turkey—wanted more protection outside of the six? Therefore, it is not feasible to give all embassies in Dhaka additional security at the expense of their own resources (money and manpower). Notably, the scarcity of police officers and the expansion of their duties may have influenced the decision.

There is a misperception among the public that the government has removed all security for diplomats from these six countries, which needs to be clarified. Only the escort facility has been withdrawn. All other safety precautions will remain in place. A separate branch of the police, the "Diplomatic Security Division," has been created for the security of diplomatic areas, including Baridhara and Gulshan, where around 1100 police officers are working, ensuring the security of the embassy area round the clock. For example, around 200 policemen are on duty daily at the US Embassy, American Center, American Club, and Ambassador's residence. Now only the seven who were in charge of escorting the US ambassador have been withdrawn. The rest will continue to perform their duties. Apart from the police, other agencies and members of intelligence agencies will perform their duties as before.

Recently, there has been a trend toward requesting escort facilities from several more embassies. For this reason, the Ministry of Home Affairs has created a smart team in Ansar Bahini. The security of all VIPs, ministers, ministerial residences, and KPI-affiliated establishments will be entrusted to Ansar's Protection Guard Regiment. So, foreign diplomats can avail themselves of this facility at their own expense. The Bangladesh government can't spend public tax money to give extra security (escort) to any foreign ambassador.

In conclusion, the discussions taking place in the wake of the protocol's withdrawal have no diplomatic significance. Political parties in Bangladesh shouldn't play a dirty game centered on the subject to appease foreign governments. They must halt their nefarious attempts to sow discord and discontent across the nation.

Dr. Sabera Chowdhury is
a senior researcher based
in Canada.

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