Not for love of money, but of Humanity. "Greater is he who works for the good of all, then he who works for the good of himself only" ~ Matthew 25:40: "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'"- (NIV). I live in Singapore where the Emperor must not be disturbed.
Friday, April 23, 2010
[13Jan2010] Quiet diplomacy not a sign of weakness
January 13, 2010 by admin
Filed under Review
By Jonathan Eyal from Straits Times
THE basic facts of the tragedy are not in doubt.
On the night of Dec 15, a car belonging to the head of the Romanian embassy hit three men and then sped away. The life of Mr Tong Kok Wai, a young man who only recently started a family, was cut in its prime; two other victims survived.
But almost everything else remains a mystery. Was Dr Silviu Ionescu – the Romanian charge d’affaires – at the wheel? Or was his car stolen, as Dr Ionescu – and he alone – claims? Why did he not report the alleged theft earlier? And why did he discover the absence of his vehicle in the early hours of the morning, when other diplomats are safely tucked in bed?
These questions remain a police matter. But even at this stage, certain conclusions can be drawn.
Faced with a complicated case of diplomatic immunities, the Singapore Government adopted the only proper course. And, if all goes well, the Romanian government still has a chance to do the same, by upholding its own legal and moral responsibilities.
Diplomatic immunities are among the oldest principles in international law. They underpin contacts between sovereign states and provide the necessary glue to the global political system. Yet, partly because they are well established, they often give rise to misconceptions.
Contrary to popular belief, embassies and other diplomatic premises are not ‘foreign territory’. They may not be entered into by the authorities of the host country, but this does not mean that non-diplomats who commit crimes on such premises escape punishment. So when terrorists seized the Iranian embassy in London in 1980, they appeared before the courts as common criminals.
Nor are envoys free to shoplift, deal in drugs or park their cars wherever they want. The purpose of diplomatic immunities is to allow embassies to function freely, not to provide cover for all manner of civil or criminal offences.
All countries, therefore, are entitled to demand respect for their national laws. And the scope of diplomatic immunities is getting narrower all the time.
Most European nations, for instance, now routinely expect envoys to pay their traffic fines promptly. South Korea, where no such obligation previously existed, announced last month that it is following suit. The idea that diplomats are free to do as they wish is a myth.
The real problem comes in the measures which can be taken against an offending envoy. He cannot be detained, searched or compelled to attend any criminal investigation, however serious the suspected offence. Historically, this provision was introduced in order to protect diplomats from trumped-up charges.
Therefore, the only choices available to the host state are either to ask the country which sent the envoy to lift his immunity so that he can be tried locally, to demand a trial in his home country or, if both options are refused, to expel him. The diplomat himself has no say in such matters; everything has to be agreed between governments.
Seen from this perspective, accusations that the authorities were ’soft’ on the Romanian charge d’affaires by ‘allowing’ him to leave Singapore days after the accident are pure nonsense.
It would have been illogical to demand that Romania lift Dr Ionescu’s immunity before all evidence was gathered. And it was impossible for Singapore to prevent Dr Ionescu’s departure or impound his passport, as some have suggested. The free movement of a diplomat remains a core principle in international law.
Whether the authorities believed Dr Ionescu’s initial claims that he was going back for medical treatment, or his assurances that he would return in due course, is largely irrelevant.
There are good reasons why foreign ministries prefer to deal with such problems away from the public eye. No country wishes to lose face, especially when one of its representatives is suspected of a crime. By negotiating privately, a deal which results in justice stands a higher chance of being achieved.
Singapore has never hesitated to take measures against envoys who broke its laws. Diplomats from even friendly countries have been asked to leave if they engaged in activities incompatible with their status. So nobody should mistake Singapore’s current preference for quiet diplomacy as a sign of weakness; it is no pushover on such matters.
Nor is it inevitable that Dr Ionescu will ultimately evade his responsibilities to answer the grave suspicions. True, by withdrawing his accreditation, Romania has effectively closed the option of putting Dr Ionescu before Singapore’s legal system. Since he no longer has any diplomatic business here, Dr Ionescu can only be compelled to come by an order of a Romanian court, which is difficult to envisage in the absence of an extradition treaty.
However, Romania’s refusal to lift the immunity of its diplomat is not, on its own, either an admission of guilt or an indication that a suspect would evade justice. Dr Ionescu’s case is now before Romania’s Prosecutor Office. The government is duty-bound to examine the evidence from Singapore. If this proves substantial and incriminating, Romania has to put him on trial at home. This is an integral part of the same international law that allowed Dr Ionescu to leave Singapore untouched.
And, if the Romanians still hesitate about this process, they’d better recall their own recent experience. Six years ago almost to the day, a car belonging to the US embassy in Bucharest, the Romanian capital, slammed into a local taxi, killing a passenger. The American embassy refused to allow its driver to go before Romanian prosecutors. He was tried by a US court instead.
And to the disgust of many, the embassy driver was acquitted – on a technicality. Mr Traian Basescu, the Romanian president, termed the verdict a ‘mockery’.
No two cases are identical. However, the moral of the story remains clear: If Romanians hated what was done to them, they should not inflict it on others. For at stake is not only justice, but also the pre-servation of Romania’s reputation as a nation which upholds both law and morality in the world.
As someone who proudly boasts a Romanian ancestry, I expect nothing less from my old country of birth. – Straits Times
- Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations
- 18April2010: Ionescu Interpol Notice withdrawn?
Copy of this post can be found at: