By Dr. Vishnu Bisram
Several days after the election, I was at the Gecom counting center ‘observing’ the proceedings. I also attended press conferences where diplomats spoke or were present. It is most regrettable that prominent foreign diplomats, especially those from the ABCE (America, Britain, Canada, European) countries, and international observers were treated un-diplomatically, if not abused, post election during the counting of ballots. They (including the US Ambassador) were locked out of the command center on occasions and international observers were threatened with revocation of their accreditation if they continued their demand for a fair count of the votes. Social media also published some nasty, derogatory remarks (including on their lifestyle) against the diplomats. Those abusive attacks and the ill-treatment of diplomats by security and Gecom officials are unacceptable and must be condemned in the strongest words possible.
I am ashamed of the un-diplomatic or (ill)-treatment (hostility and insulting comments), harassment, and attempted intimidation tactics meted out to the diplomatic community during the counting of votes. Domestic observers condemned the actions of those who insulted and or ill-treated diplomats. Our government and our diplomats abroad should also be ashamed of the behavior of Guyanese against the diplomatic community and international observers and condemn those who abused our guests. I doubt the diplomats and foreign observers would ever forget their terrible experience at Gecom by some staff and from some Guyanese who gathered outside of the counting center to support electoral fraud. In fact, the foreign observers told as such – they thank the Guyanese people for warm hospitality but condemned the actions of Gecom staff and those who gathered outside the counting center intimidating them.
In every part of the globe, diplomats are treated with utmost respect and adulation and are held in awe especially in developing countries. And with Guyanese known world over for their warm hospitality, I was taken aback at the actions of security forces and Gecom officials to lock out or eject diplomats from the counting center. Worse, it was most shameful that Gecom officials attempted to rig the election count right in front of diplomats (and international observers). Are the counting officers and some Gecom officials and those gathered outside shameless?
Diplomats (Ambassadors) are representatives of a country to a host state accredited to further relations between states. Diplomats have diplomatic immunity, a concept taught in courses on foreign policy or diplomacy in the field of international relations (politics). I did doctoral studies in and also taught the subject. Under diplomatic immunity, a diplomat is protected by the host state against criminal charges, abuses, harassment and intimidation. The host nation must, by international law, provide protection and security to the diplomats (all envoys) and allow them to freely carry out their tasks to improve relations or protect democracy. The behavior of the diplomats is in accordance with universally accepted rules and customs that are laid out in conventions and are necessary to further relations. Diplomats are free to speak their mind, with some limitation, about affairs (human rights or democratic violations) in a host country. The foreign diplomats in Guyana did not violate any rule. No one has disputed what took place at Gecom and its vicinity.
Diplomatic immunity is one of the oldest principles of foreign relations. It is in international law going back to a practice for centuries. A formal treaty was signed in 1961 known as Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations, followed by another one on ‘Consular Relations’ signed in 1963, and strengthened in December 1973 in another treaty known as ‘Protection of Diplomats Convention’.
These conventions formalized customary rules on how diplomats must be treated and is the same worldwide. All countries sign them. They accord full protection of all diplomats and foreign staff as well as their properties. Their personal activities are also protected.
Abuses meted out to diplomats in a host country are very rare; usually it is the other way around. It was unbelievable that they would happen in my country. No country would want to abuse a diplomat because of the far reaching consequences to the home country – summoning of diplomats as happed to the Guyana Ambassador last week, suspension in foreign aid or loans, expulsion from international organizations, break in diplomatic relations, other sanctions.
The abuses to diplomats at Gecom created a serious threat to friendly relations with Guyana. These diplomats are from powerful countries that can inflict tough sanctions on Guyana. And they have already threatened serious consequences if Gecom goes ahead with electoral fraud or if a government is sworn in from that fraud. Guyana is a small, weak country; it would not be wise to entangle in conflict with larger nations like the US, Canada, UK and European countries.
The behavior of certain individuals and security staff at Gecom against the diplomats borders on the criminal. Action is needed. The abuses from Gecom and those who partook or support electoral fraud have created a serious threat to the maintenance of normal international relations with these powerful countries. Those involved in attacking the diplomats must be penalized or sanctioned by the Guyana government. The ABCE countries must also proceed with their own actions like revocation of visas including of family members and freezing their assets in the home countries. There must be consequences or there would be a repeat of such abuses.