New Security Risks and Challenges for Consuls

By Foote, Arnold | UN Chronicle, July 2013 | Go to article overview

New Security Risks and Challenges for Consuls


Foote, Arnold, UN Chronicle


The rapidly changing global environment affects the nature of the work done by consuls and the conditions under which they work. Among the significant challenges that consuls face globally is the emergence of new security risks that threaten peace, security and development. The events of 11 September 2012 in Benghazi, Libya, have brought into sharp focus the new security environment in many countries. Events like these have led the international community and individual states, as well as groups of countries, to evaluate the security risks in diplomatic and consular missions and to propose sweeping new changes. These policy and strategic changes constitute part of the conceptual redefinition of international and national security.

The European Union, for instance, has recently adopted a security strategy to deal with its internal security challenges. This reflects an all-encompassing approach which includes national actions affecting policing, criminal law, immigration, border control, counter-terrorism, national security agencies cooperation, information and intelligence gathering and sharing. What is particularly striking is the long list of crimes which are now considered as endangering national and international security. These include terrorism, serious and organized crime, trafficking in illicit drugs and arms, human trafficking, sexual exploitation of minors and pornography, economic crime, cybercrime, corruption, document fraud and money-laundering. Consuls accept their responsibility to join in the global struggle against these crimes and can render valuable services to their respective sending states.

In light of the attacks that have taken place since the 1998 embassy attacks in East Africa, the United States Government has instituted new security measures to combat the increasing threats to the personal safety and security of its officials overseas and their facilities in high threat locations. These activities have increased since the 2012 terrorist attack on the consulate compound in Benghazi where a United States Ambassador and three other United States officials were killed.

These examples illustrate the diplomatic and consular relations that are now conducted in an environment of increasing security risks to the personnel and property of diplomatic and consular missions throughout the world. These threats are themselves the result of internal and external factors which directly or indirectly affect the state's capacity to protect its own citizens. In addition, a state's ability to discharge its responsibilities to provide a secure environment for diplomatic and consular missions might be compromised. At the core of these concerns is the diminishing capacity of many states to guarantee safe passage to diplomatic and consular officers as they carry out their assigned responsibilities.

The 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations refers to the security of the consular premises and consular officers under Articles 31, 59 and 64. Articles 31(3) and 59 provide that the receiving state is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the consular premises against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the consular post or impairment of its dignity. Article 64 enjoins upon the receiving state to accord to an honorary consular officer such protection as may be required by reason of his official position.

Until recently, consuls were able to rely on the provisions of the Vienna Convention for their protection. However, the attacks on foreign missions of many countries in different parts of the world have laid bare the vulnerability of consuls to acts of terrorism, organized crime and violent internal strife or civil wars and disturbances. Consideration should be given to strengthening the Vienna Convention to improve the legal framework for their protection.

The 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack has highlighted a serious concern for the security of consular missions and graphically demonstrated the vulnerability of consular premises. …

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