Saturday, 10 June, 2023

Protocol Practices Should Be Maintained Reciprocally

A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman

Protocol Practices Should Be Maintained Reciprocally
A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman

On 15 May night, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a press release said that the government has decided to withdraw the additional police escorts provided to the ambassadors and high commissioners of a number of countries to Bangladesh during their travel inside the country. The press release said that Bangladesh respects international law and customary practices for providing security to foreign diplomats. Generally, Bangladesh Police takes the responsibility of providing security for them. The practice of providing additional police protection facilities during their movements started with some foreign diplomats after an incident in Dhaka a few years ago. But now, the law and order situation in Bangladesh is normal and under control. So, there is no need to provide additional police escorts to them. It may be recalled here that none of the Bangladeshi ambassadors in any country in the world is provided with such facilities during their movements in their host countries. Anyway, as informed, the Ministry of Home Affairs has created a smart team by Bangladesh Ansars and if any embassy wishes to take their services, they can avail of that facility accordingly.

Foreign Minister Dr. A K Abdul Momen, on the same day, also told a private TV channel that there is no need to provide them with these additional police escorts as a peaceful atmosphere is prevailing in the country and Bangladesh is now calmer than any time in the past. Here anyone can move from one place to another safely. However, he said that they can hire security personnel if they need.

I personally would like to thank the government for such a decision, though the decision could be taken before given the improvement of the country’s prevailing law and order situation. In fact, this security facility is given to only a few countries and some of the remaining missions have also been asking for that facility. And we know they are not asking that out of concern over their diplomats’ safety, but on the question of fairness. Is it possible for Bangladesh to do that spending a huge amount of public money? Certainly not, as this money comes from the taxpayers of this country. Will those countries spend their money on our diplomats working in their countries? Their taxpayers will never allow that. However, the ‘zero tolerance’ principle of the government concerning terror activities has contributed a lot to making the country a peaceful place for all, including foreign diplomats. Foreign diplomats, like the locals, can move to any corner of the country without fear.

In our diplomatic career, we did not see in any country of our posting where police persons were engaged for our protection during our movements within that country. Even, there was no police security at the Embassy premise or Ambassador’s residence. We did not ask anything which was not required. But Bangladesh is a unique place where foreign diplomats have been enjoying police security whether it is necessary or not. According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961, we need to ensure the protection of foreign diplomats working in Bangladesh. We are doing that, as we do for our nationals. If that is the case, there is no need of providing such unnecessary security facilities to some diplomats. This facility might send the wrong message to the world that Bangladesh is not a safe country, there are terrorists and the country’s law and order situation is not supportive of the secured movement of their diplomats. Therefore, this decision will make the world people in understanding the real situation in Bangladesh.

I would like to say a few words about other protocol practices in Bangladesh which also need to look into given the present-day practices by other countries. About the use of a flag, Article 20 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 says, “The mission and its head shall have the right to use the flag and emblem of the sending State on the premises of the mission, including the residence of the head of the mission, and on his means of transport.” During my assignment in Italy in the 1990s, I had seen ambassadors use a car flag twice during his/her entire tenure- once at the time of the presentation of credentials to the president and for the second time when he/she paid a farewell call on the president. In Malaysia, a head mission uses a car flag when attending an official programme only. But in Bangladesh, many ambassadors and high commissioners are seen using car flags all the time, whether there is an official engagement. Even, our ministers, while travelling inside Bangladesh territory, are entitled to use flags on their cars and they are doing that. But I did not see such practices by any minister in Italy and Malaysia. However, this practice does not involve any expenditure either from the sending state or the hosting country.

I had the opportunity to accompany our foreign minister during his foreign tours. He was received at the airport by a senior government official of the visiting country, never by his counterparts. But our foreign minister has always been seen receiving all visiting foreign ministers at the airport. In Malaysia, visiting ministers are received by senior government officers if those visits were official. The Malaysian government has no responsibilities for any private visit of a minister, except allocating a VIP room at the airport. In case of an official visit of a prime minister, a deputy minister normally receives and sees off him/her at the airport, except ASEAN Prime Minister, who is received by a cabinet minister. For any multilateral visit, a deputy minister receives the visiting heads of government/state at the airport. On the contrary, our prime minister receives all visiting heads of government at the airport. Our ministers also do the same while receiving their counterparts visiting Bangladesh. We might be courteous and very sincere to our foreign friends. But the time has come to have a revision of those practices.

To have a call on the king or prime minister in the developed countries, particularly Europe, America or even in some Asian countries, remains a dream for an ambassador posted there. In Malaysia, I never saw a head of mission called on the king or the prime minister of Malaysia during his/her tenure. Perhaps, they do not feel any necessity for such meetings or do not have time to receive an ambassador. There a head of mission could meet a minister at the highest level. Even, heads of missions are not allowed to meet any ministers before the presentation of credentials to the king. But what happens in our country? An ambassador or high commissioner, just after their arrival, can meet our president. Prime minister and ministers as and when they like to meet. Might be we have enough time to spend on them.

It is a normal practice all over the world to organise national day reception by the missions. Our missions abroad also organise the event. But it is rarely attended by cabinet ministers of the host countries. In Bangladesh, our ministers remain so eager to attend such receptions organised by foreign missions. Sometimes, several cabinet ministers are seen in such receptions, though one represents our government as the chief guest.

If a nation does not respect itself, other countries would never respect that nation. Undoubtedly Bangladesh believes in equality, mutual respect and friendship, peaceful co-existence and cooperation for development. It follows the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in maintaining its relations with other countries. Besides, it follows other usual diplomatic norms and practices. In view of the protocol practices in other countries as well as the importance of our relationship with those countries, we need to have a revision of our existing protocol guidelines and to set those according to the present-day requirements on a reciprocal basis to safeguard our national dignity.

However, we strongly believe that our government will invest its fullest strength to ensure the safety and security of all foreign diplomats and representatives so that they can perform their responsibilities properly without any hindrance from any corner within Bangladesh territory. And thus, the foreign envoys should not be worried or misunderstood.


The writer is a former

Ambassador and Secretary