The World Federation of Consuls created an extensive programme in 2013 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963 which has defined the framework for consular relations between independent countries for the last half century. This programme was launched in New York on 24th April, 2013.
The observance of this Golden Jubilee occurred in a radically changing environment that has significant security risks and challenges for Consuls.
The Consular institution has evolved significantly since 1963. One of the most significant changes is the establishment of the World Federation of Consuls in Copenhagen in 1982. It was widely recognised that there was a necessity to bring together Consular Associations and Corps from all over the world to share experiences and co-ordinate efforts to enhance the status and effectiveness of the Consul as an important element of the conduct of bi-lateral relations. Today the Federation has membership in every region of the world, with thousands of individual Consuls as members.
One of the most significant developments in the evolution of the Consular Institution has been the increase in the number of Hon. Consuls who are now recognised as efficient instruments in the maintenance of international relations. The status of Hon. Consul was recognised in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations in 1963. The growth in the number of Hon. Consuls reflects the increase of cultural, economic and trade relations between the multiplicity of states which could not be maintained by the use of normal diplomatic missions and consular officials. Many states have found it cost effective to appoint Hon. Consuls who are citizens of the receiving states but are not public officials of the sending states and are often not provided with the usual facilities of a regular consulate or diplomatic mission. In other words, Hon. Consuls do exactly the same work as career Consuls and in some cases Diplomats and this work is done free of cost to the sending state.
Hon. Consuls are often prominent members of the local community, drawn from the business sector, academia, the professions or senior retired public officials. The numbers of Hon. Consuls have increased significantly since 1963 and it is estimated that many countries have far more Honorary Consuls than diplomatic and regular career Consuls. It is estimated that there are over one thousand Hon. Consuls in the United States. For many small states the number of Hon. Consuls exceeds diplomatic missions. Monaco, for example, has seven diplomatic missions and forty three consular missions; Luxembourg has twenty diplomatic missions and thirty five consular missions; Cyprus has one hundred and nineteen Hon. Consuls which is three times the number of diplomatic missions while Malta has fifteen diplomatic missions and eighty two consular missions. Canada has one hundred and eighteen Hon. Consuls in seventy seven countries.
With the increase in the number of Consuls worldwide and the geographical dispersal, especially in large countries, the work of the World Federation of Consuls assumes a greater strategic importance as the organisation that works to preserve, protect and develop the consular system, so that both sending and receiving states can receive mutual benefits. The Federation has also been instrumental in gaining international recognition for Consuls and has become a strong source of influence globally.
Our Federation is seeking to advance the interest of Consuls in a rapidly changing global environment which affects the nature of the work they do and the conditions under which they work.
One of the significant challenges facing Consuls globally is the emergence of new security risks that threaten to undermine their effectiveness. The events of Sept.11 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 and groups of countries to evaluate the security risks to 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 an Internal Security Strategy to deal with its internal security challenges. It reflects an all-encompassing approach which includes national actions affecting policing, criminal law, immigration, border control, counter terrorism, national internal security agencies co-operation, information and intelligence gathering and sharing.
What is particularly striking is the long list of items which are now considered as security risks. These include terrorism, serious and organised crime, drug trafficking, cyber crime, trafficking in human beings, sexual exploitation of minors and pornography, economic crime, corruption, trafficking in arms, document fraud, critical infrastructures and money laundering. As the EU strategy points out “to reach an adequate level of internal security in a complex global environment requires the involvement of law enforcement and border management authorities, with the support of judicial co-operation, civil protection agencies and also of the political, economic, financial, social and private sectors, including non-governmental organisations”.
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 Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the consulate compound in Benghazi in which the U.S. Ambassador and three other U. S. officials were killed. It is estimated that between 1998 and 2009, there were thirty nine attacks aimed at U.S. embassies, consulates or Chief of Mission. It was also recognised that following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, domestic security programmes had to be upgraded and the investigative capacity strengthened. The United States has established a Bureau of Diplomatic Security with global responsibilities, with protection of people and property as its top priority. In addition, there is an Office of Foreign Missions to service and regulate the activities of all Foreign Missions in the United States.
What these examples illustrate is that diplomatic and consular relations are now being conducted in an increasing environment of 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 and to discharge its responsibilities to provide a secure environment for diplomatic and consular missions. At the core of these concerns are the diminishing capacities of many states to guarantee safe passage to diplomatic and consular officers as they carry out their assigned responsibilities. Until recently, Consuls were able to rely for their protection on the provisions of the Vienna Convention, yet 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, organised crime and internal revolt against governments.
Not all member states of the Federation have been able to provide adequate personal and physical protection for their consular officers overseas. On the contrary there are increasing reports of the intrusion of armed elements into consulates, resulting in the abduction of personnel from those missions. Some of these security threats are the result of internal rebellions. For example, in April 2012 the Algerian consulate in Gao, Mali was attacked and the Consul abducted. These attacks were strongly condemned by the African Union who deplored the actions as “reprehensible acts against the internationally protected diplomatic personnel and premises” and called for the restoration of the authority of the Republic of Mali on its entire national territory and the return to the constitutional order in the country.
Beyond acts of terrorism and internal rebellion, Consuls operating in areas characterised by high incidents of organised crime are unable to carry out their functions. In response to these incidents, Governments have had to issue travel warnings about the dangers of travelling in those areas, as consular personnel would not be able to respond to any emergency situation due to security precautions that would have to be taken for them to travel in those areas.
The security risks are further compounded in the case of Hon. Consuls who are mostly citizens and residents of the country to which they are accredited. Neither the local governments nor the countries who have accredited them are in positions to guarantee their personal safety and the security of their premises in times of civil disturbance or against criminal activity. Traditionally, these Consuls had not attracted the visibility that they now enjoy. Their increasing role in promoting trade, protecting travellers and citizens of the accrediting state and in some cases the increasing migration across borders impose new challenges and risks to their security.
The celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963 will provide the World Federation of Consuls with the opportunity to highlight the significant contributions that Consuls have been making in promoting good relations between states. There is also the opportunity to gain further international recognition in some countries as well as in international bodies such as the United Nations. They are doing so, however, in a radically changing environment where acts of terrorism, organised crime and national disasters pose new risks and challenges to their personal safety and their effectiveness.
In this context, the Federation would wish to use the Golden Jubilee to urge the international community and individual governments to take those measures that will address the new threats and improve the safety and security of Consuls so that they may be able to discharge their responsibilities in an effective and efficient manner.
In view of all this and the current security challenges facing Consular Corps, our organization has a key role to play in championing security for Honorary Consuls worldwide. We have recently formed the FICAC Consular Security Committee to perform the following functions on an on-going basis.
- Provide an oversight function on security related matters worldwide.
- To have regular dialogue with the relevant international bodies and countries dealing with diplomatic security matters.
- To seek additional security protection and for measures to be put in place to protect the lives of Consuls and their families worldwide.
Under my Chairmanship the committee is as follows:
- Europe – Hon. Costas Lefkaritis & Hon. Marko Smole
- South Asia- Hon. K. L. Ganju and Hon. Dr. Mirza Ikhtiar Baig
- East Asia – Hon. Vince Carlos
- Middle East – Hon. Khaled Miqdadi & Hon. Peter Gad Naschitz
- Africa – Hon. Captain Dr. Wallace Williams & Hon. Amarkai Amarteifio
- Hon. Aykut Eken – Secretary General FICAC
- Caribbean & Latin America – Hon. Rear Admiral Peter Brady, Hon Sonia Brouwer and Hon. Thomas Amaral Neves.
I would appreciate that any comments, suggestions, reports of any incidents be sent to our Secretary General with a copy to me.
Thank you very much.