Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 09 April 2023

MEA invokes Vienna Convention

Source: By The Indian Express

A group of people chanting pro-Khalistan slogans took down the Indian flag at the High Commission in London, the Indian government on 19 March 2023 summoned the “senior-most” UK diplomat, Deputy High Commissioner Christina Scott, and lodged a strong protest.

On the same day, a group of pro-Khalistani protesters attacked and damaged the Indian Consulate in San Francisco, reported Press Trust of India.  Raising pro-Khalistan slogans, the protesters broke open the makeshift security barriers raised by the city police and installed two Khalistani flags inside the Consulate premises. Two consulate personnel soon removed these flags, according to PTI.

On the London incident, a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs said, “An explanation was demanded for the complete absence of the British security that allowed these elements to enter the High Commission premises. She (Dy High Commissioner Scott) was reminded in this regard of the basic obligations of the UK Government under the Vienna Convention.”

What is the Vienna Convention?

The term “Vienna Convention” can refer to any of a number of treaties signed in Vienna, most of which are related to the harmonisation or formalisation of the procedures of international diplomacy. The treaty being referred to by the MEA in this instance is the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) which “provides a complete framework for the establishment, maintenance and termination of diplomatic relations on a basis of consent between independent sovereign States”, as per an introductory note on the treaty in UN’s Audiovisual Library of International Law.

Most notably, the Convention codifies the longstanding custom of diplomatic immunity, in which diplomatic missions are granted privileges that enable diplomats to perform their functions without fear of coercion or harassment by the host country. It affirms the concept of “inviolability” of a diplomatic mission, which has been one of the enduring cornerstones of international diplomacy.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations entered into force on 24 April 1964 and is nearly universally ratified, with Palau and South Sudan being the exceptions.

What does the Vienna Convention say about obligations of a “receiving State”?

As per the Vienna Convention, a “receiving State” refers to the state in which the host nation, where a diplomatic mission is located. In this case, the host nation is the UK and as per the Vienna Convention, it has some basic obligations towards the diplomatic missions it hosts in its sovereign territory. Article 22 of the Convention deals with obligations with regards to the premises of the Mission.

Part 2 of this article states that “The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity”.

Basically, the security of any High Commission or Embassy is the responsibility of the host nation. While diplomatic missions can also employ their own security, ultimately, the host nation is accountable to provide security.

Did the UK not fulfil its obligations in this instance?

The fact that protestors were able to climb the walls of the High Commission premises indicates a major breach.

As per the MEA statement, “India finds unacceptable the indifference of the UK Government to the security of Indian diplomatic premises and personnel in the UK,” the MEA said, adding, “It is expected that the UK Government would take immediate steps to identify, arrest and prosecute each one of those involved in today’s incident, and put in place stringent measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.”

“It is utterly shocking that this was allowed to happen … If the British Police are completely derelict in their duty … this is a major insult that we cannot tolerate”, Congress Shashi Tharoor told ANI on 20 March 2023.

On its end, the UK too has reacted strongly, condemning the event, but stopped short of publicly apologising for its lapses. “I condemn the disgraceful acts today against the people and premises of the @HCI_London — totally unacceptable,” Alex Ellis, The British High Commissioner to India, tweeted.

The UK government will “always” take the security of the Indian High Commission in London “seriously”, Foreign Office minister Tariq Ahmad tweeted.

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