It has been increasingly observed that foreign diplomats stationed in Dhaka are increasingly getting involved in Bangladesh’s political issues with the next national election scheduled in 13 months’ time. Many see this involvement and meddling of the envoys in this country’s internal affairs as apparent violation of diplomatic norms. Even after government’s sharp reactions, the foreigners continue interfering in local affairs. A Press Xpress investigation brings before you more in detail with regard to foreign envoys’ recent meddling in Bangladesh’s internal affairs
It has been increasingly observed that foreign diplomats stationed in Dhaka are increasingly getting involved in Bangladesh’s political issues with the next national election scheduled in 13 months’ time. Many see this involvement and meddling of the envoys in this country’s internal affairs as apparent violation of diplomatic norms. Even after government’s sharp reactions, the foreigners continue interfering in local affairs. A Press Xpress investigation brings before you more in detail with regard to foreign envoys’ recent meddling in Bangladesh’s internal affairs.
YOU CAN ALSO READ: GEOPOLITICS, BANGLADESH-MYANMAR BORDER and EXTERNAL FORCES IN MYANMAR
As Bangladesh’s national parliamentary election approaches fast, activities of the political parties are apparently on the up. Foreign diplomats, too, are not sitting idle. For the past few months, diplomats representing various countries, but stationed in Dhaka, have been heard making various comments about the country’s election system and election environment as a whole. Their differentiating comments on Bangladesh’s ensuing election have created interest and reactions among people and parties from different walks of life. These have given birth to some questions: how reasonable is it for foreign diplomats to talk about the internal affairs of an independent sovereign state? How does international law actually see this? Let’s take a look at the matter and before that let’s first look at the comments of the diplomats, which have been widely discussed and criticised.
AS ENVOYS TURN OPINION LEADERS
The United States ambassador to Bangladesh, Peter De Haas, while speaking about the election, said, “I hope the next national election will be according to international standards. Elections will be conducted in a truly democratic manner, so that voters can exercise their rights with ease”. At a viewsexchange session with the Editors’ Council on November 8, the ambassador stated that the US is more concerned with having free and fair elections than it is with who wins and no party is preferred by the US over another.
The European Union (EU) ambassador to Bangladesh, Charles Whitley, has made similar comments on several occasions. At a conference of the Centre for Governance Studies on July 16, the ambassador said EU wants the political communication and participation of all parties in the upcoming elections of Bangladesh and it is concerned about the instability of this region.
Robert Chatterton Dickson, the High Commissioner of the UK to Bangladesh, said, “We look forward to dialogues and participatory debates between all parties, including the two major parties in Bangladesh, for an inclusive election”. He hopes that the upcoming election will be free, fair, participatory and credible to all while speaking at an event in the city on August 22.
Addressing the German Business council in the capital in November, German envoy Achim Tröster expressed concerned over the recent political violence in Bangladesh and said that a free and fair election is needed for the country’s stability.
On November 16, Turkish Ambassador Mustafa Osman Turan said holding a free and fair election in Bangladesh is completely the country’s responsibility. He said political parties need to meet and address their differences and that the government alone cannot solve all the issues. It will be a missed opportunity for Bangladesh to have a free and fair election without participation of the opposition parties, he stressed. Interestingly, the Japanese ambassador’s speech in Dhaka has created quite a stir in the political arena. On November 14, in response to a question from journalists about the 2018 elections, he said, “I heard Bangladesh police filled the ballot boxes the night before in the previous (National Parliament 2018) election. There is no such precedent in any other country. I expect such incident will not repeat”.
His statement, which actually goes against the diplomatic etiquette according to the Vienna Convention, was unacceptable to many including the ruling party. As a result, ambassador Ito Naoki was summoned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and ‘necessary messages’ were conveyed to him which many anticipates that government has reminded him of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
WHAT IS IN VIENNA CONVENTION?
Vienna convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961, article 41, states unequivocally that “Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of the State.” In addition, the International Court of Justice reaffirmed non-intervention as a norm of customary international law in its ruling in 1986. The principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of States also signifies that a State should not otherwise intervene in a dictatorial way in the internal affairs of other States.
According to the Vienna Convention, foreign envoys will work to improve relations between the two countries and will not interfere in the internal affairs of the country. They should not go beyond it. This is diplomatic etiquette and foreign diplomats should follow the relevant rules and etiquette in conducting diplomatic activities.
WHY DO FOREIGN ENVOYS INTERFERE?
Unfortunately, the trend and scope of foreigners’ undue interference in county’s internal affairs is increasing day by day. The immediate question that appears in a curious mind is: why do foreigners intend to interfere in the election of our country? Analysts have different views on this. Some think they want to see that democracy in our country is working properly according to their prescribed standard. In fact, a common perception may be that the foreigners want to see their imposed version of democracy here. A notable example of this may be the “Strengthening Political Landscape (SPL)” project, funded by the USAID under the supervision of the US Embassy in Bangladesh, which through a website (https://www.politicsmatters.com.bd) provides democracy and political knowledge to the people of this country. Thus, they seem to teach us about democracy by acting like a preacher of democracy.
Moreover, under the pretext of consolidating democracy, foreign missions of powerful states hold meetings with the Election Commission (EC) and various political parties although the government and EC have directly and indirectly expressed their apparent discontent at times. Also, the foreign diplomats on various occasions go as far as expressing their concern (!) about our politics, human rights, and elections. These are, in fact, issues they often find relevant to apply pressure on the country’s government. In reality, Western democracy, politics, elections, human rights, and culture are completely different from the same herein Bangladesh. Experts, therefore, think that this trend of teaching democracy or politics and applying pressure to Bangladesh in the manner of Western tradition does not bode well for them as democracy in those countries are not leak-proof and instead they are suffering from obvious shortcomings in their own version of democracy, electoral system and et all.
Some analysts, however, think that the foreign missions in Dhaka talk about a stable political environment in Bangladesh mainly because of their various interests in this country. Hence political interference in affairs of other countries has nowadays become a common geopolitical instrument of various powerful states to serve their interest. In this regard, it can be noted that Bangladesh is of growing importance to different countries apparently for various geopolitical reasons. However, the major powers that Bangladesh has diplomatic, business and strategic relations include the US, the UK, the EU nations, China, Russia, Japan, and India.
The global powers and their allies want Bangladesh under their sphere of influence especially as the recent political developments across the globe are growingly driving the world into polarisation again. It is, therefore, diplomats from the some powerful states in Dhaka are trying to protect their geopolitical and trade interests by way of calling for establishing stable political environment here, which, in turn, meddling in the country’s political affairs. But our hope is that, despite the unsolicited statements and interference of the diplomats, diplomatic activities in the past have not been able to have much influence on the politics of Bangladesh. The proof of which we can see in the liberation war of Bangladesh where the strong nations diplomacy could not stop Bangladesh ascent on the world map. Even after the independence, various international conspiracies could not halt the establishment of democracy in Bangladesh. Therefore, as people of this country, it is our responsibility to be alert to the activities of foreign powers as well as to be responsible in our actions in in this regard.
THE LATEST CASE OF NAKED INTERFERENCE
US Ambassador Peter Haas on 14 December 2022 visited the residence of missing BNP leader and alleged criminal Sajedul Islam Sumon, who remains disappeared for about a decade from the capital’s Shaheenbagh area. Although his family claimed that he was apprehended by the law enforcers on 04 December 2013, no proof was given in this regard. Surprisingly, none of his family members filed a General Diary or case with any of the police stations.
Allegations are there that Sajedul Islam Sumon and his family being the residents of Shaheenbagh have long been running a reign of terror in the area. Dhaka’s top criminals like Jabbar Munna were allegedly given shelter and patronage by Suman’s family. In 2013, BNP relied on Suman, who is allegedly considered by some as the party’s undeclared mastermind of ‘fire terror’. It’s alleged that Suman took the responsibility of setting fire to vehicles, perpetrating attack on police and blasting bombs across Dhaka following the orders of BNP’s high command.
An investigation has also found that Sumon was treated under supervision of Dr. Mohammad Abul Khayer in a local hospital as his fingers got blown away accidentally by his own illegal firearms three months before his much-discussed disappearance. Two cases against him were found at Tejgaon police station in connection with criminal activities. The law enforcers think the accused is now absconding to avoid arrest and he is believed to be staging an abduction drama as he is chased by three arrest warrants. Besides, Suman’s sister Sanjida Islam runs an organisation called ‘Mayer Dak’ (Mother’s Call) by continuing to hide her brother’s identity as ‘missing’. She has already started collecting donations in the name of this organisation. Many think she is basically trying to gain financially as is evident in her swelled bank account. For such an alleged political culprit, the sympathy shown by the US ambassador will only help criminals continue their ill purposes. Therefore, it will not be acceptable, appreciable and helpful for both the people of the two countries.
RESPONSIBILITY OF THE COUNTRY PEOPLE
To tell the truth, the objectionable activity of diplomats is as responsible for interference in the internal affairs of the country as it is the lack of co-existence of political parties. Political parties, especially those in opposition, often present complaints against each other to representatives of foreign states and seek their cooperation. They do this because, it is believed, they want to quickly ascend to state power. Besides, they lack sufficient confidence in solving political problems. The truth is, by involving foreigners in this way, they not only humiliate themselves, but also humiliate the country. As a result, foreign representatives take advantage of the weakness of confidence and divisions of country’s political parties. In this regard, Minister for Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives Tajul Islam justly said “No one from outside should talk about national elections in our country. This is a matter of dignity of this country. Just as it is not my responsibility to comment on elections in any other country, the same process applies to others. We may share their experiences on some issues.” Contrary to this comment, government is also responsible for involving foreign missions in some instances. The latest example is the sending letters to all diplomatic missions and the office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Dhaka about the recent political situation. The letter justified the police actions against the BNP activists who assembled in the city’s Naya Paltan for party’s planned assembly. This has raised question among civil society whether the government really wants non-involvement of foreigners in the country’s politics.
Apart for the political groups, our media and intellectuals are also creating opportunities for the diplomats to make irresponsible remarks providing the foreign envoys a platform to make their remarks. Journalists also want to know when there is a crisis in the country. The media also consider these comments as news items. NGOs also call foreign ambassadors to speak. National NGOs concerned about democracy and human rights in Bangladesh, are more eager to raise funds by promoting these issues. This is why political parties and the people of the country have a bigger role to play. They should keep in mind that it’s the duty of all to put national interest first in any situation. All political parties and groups need to get out of the traditional political attitude of defaming and complaining about the internal affairs of the country so that foreigners cannot meddle in our political affairs. Our political parties and people must understand that if foreigners continue to influence us, they will continue to influence our future which we certainly do not expect.
To sign off, there is no doubt that elections are internal affairs of every sovereign country. Meddling by foreign diplomats in internal affairs is not acceptable anyway. No outsider, therefore, has the right to interfere in Bangladesh’s local affairs that include deciding what kind of electoral system to use, and what kind of democratic path to follow.
The state will solely decide the democratic systems and how to conduct elections. People at different levels including political parties should also behave responsibly.
Although diplomacy of different countries in regard to national polls may please some people or groups, it is, however, necessary to consider how acceptable such work is. Foreign missions stationed in Bangladesh, therefore, must be aware of their code of conduct. They should understand that Bangladesh is no longer a colony of any country. They should behave respectfully with non-interference in this country’s affairs. At the same time, as citizens of this country, it is our duty to prevent them from any interference in internal affairs of the state and vehemently defend our national interest.