Where does a diplomat draw the line?

By Easwaran Rutnam

The actions of Brigadier Priyanka Fernando, the Defence Attaché at the Sri Lankan High Commission in London last week came in for both praise and criticism.

Brigadier Priyanka Fernando was accused of undiplomatic conduct when provoked by pro-LTTE diaspora at the time the Sri Lanka national anthem was being sung outside the High Commission premises to mark Sri Lanka’s independence day anniversary.

Brigadier Priyanka Fernando was suspended by the Foreign Ministry over a throat-cutting gesture but the move was soon revoked by President Maithripala Sirisena.

The Foreign Ministry drew flak for suspending the diplomat to conduct an inquiry while President Sirisena was hailed for revoking the suspension.

Brigadier Priyanka Fernando was also hailed as a hero for standing up for Sri Lanka and even pointing at the Sri Lanka flag on his shirt during the protest.

Social media went to town with some people even posting an image of Brigadier Priyanka Fernando as their profile picture on Facebook while others questioned if the manner in which the  Brigadier behaved was acceptable.

The issue at hand is, however, where does an officer holding a diplomatic position draw the line. If one is to go by the book then the Brigadier seems to have crossed the line .

The behaviour of the pro-LTTE diaspora can and will never be condoned. However the difference between a diplomat and a terrorist supporter is that one expects the diplomat to be “diplomatic” when verbally provoked.

General conduct of diplomatic representatives

Any diplomatic envoy or representative is to be aware their work and conduct should not in any way compromise the integrity of their country’s reputation, overseas.

Their conduct and actions is subject to a greater degree of scrutiny and public interest than they would face at home in Sri Lanka.

Those in Sri Lanka, working in the public service would be aware of the differences between private spheres and the public domain where they work and the Establishment Code governs all conduct for official work and duties. This distinction is not the same overseas. There is no distinction between private conduct and office conduct, when serving abroad at a Diplomatic Mission.

At every moment, a diplomatic representative is representing their country and must ensure the highest standards of behaviour abroad, far greater than what is expected in their home country. Any conduct and action may have an adverse perception that may affect the country’s reputation. The potential for greater public scrutiny requires that representatives use good behaviour, judgement and common sense at all times.

Accordingly, while all representatives are entitled to their privacy, it is expected that representatives and their dependents will, when serving abroad, will ensure that they display personal behaviour that reflects the highest standardsof decorum, behaviour and good conduct.

The Vienna Conventionon Diplomatic Relations provides diplomatic representatives abroad with varying degrees of immunity from the jurisdiction of local courts of law and governs their code and conduct. Under the Conventions, it is the duty of all representatives and their dependents, even if they have diplomatic or consular immunities, to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state.

Some sections of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 related to conduct abroad are summarised below. (Text of Relevant sections follow):-

Article 3

Provides functions of diplomatic mission:-

–       representing sending state in receiving state

–       promoting friendly relations between sending state and receiving state

Article 41

Duty of all persons enjoying diplomatic privileges and immunities to respect laws of receiving state and duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State (receiving state).

Article 9

Receiving state may at any time, without having to explain its decision, notify sending state that the Head of Mission or diplomatic staff is persona non grata or that any member of the staff of the mission is not acceptable. 

Vienna convention on diplomatic relations: 1961

Relevant sections from Convention available at:-http://legal.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/9_1_1961.pdf 

Article 3 

The functions of a diplomatic mission consist, inter alia, in:

(aRepresenting the sending State in the receiving State;

(bProtecting in the receiving State the interests of the sending State and of its nationals, within the limits permitted by international law;

(c) Negotiating with the Government of the receiving State;

(d) Ascertaining by all lawful means conditions and developments in the receiving State, and

reporting thereon to the Government of the sending State;

(ePromoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State, and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations.

Article 9 

1.Thereceiving State may at any time and without having to explain its decision, notify the

sending State that the head of the mission or any member of the diplomatic staff of the mission is persona non grata or that any other member of the staff of the mission is not acceptable. In any such case, the sending State shall, as appropriate, either recall the person concerned or terminate his functions with the mission. A person may be declared non grata or not acceptable before arriving in the territory of the receiving State.

2. If the sending State refuses or fails within a reasonable period to carry out its obligations under paragraph 1 of this article, the receiving State may refuse to recognize the person concerned as a member of the mission. 

Article 41 

1.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 that State. 

Under Sri Lanka laws and procedures

Army Act:

Extract below from Army Act available at: http://www.defence.lk/main_pub.asp?fname=armyact


107. Every officer who, being a person subject to military law, behaves in a scandalous manner, unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentlemanshall be guilty of a military offence and shall, on. conviction by a court martial, be cashiered. 

Establishment Code 

All representatives appointed to serve in Sri Lanka missions, including public servants and those on contract are governed by the Establishment Code. Letters of appointment issued indicate that they are subject to Establishment Code and other Ministry Circulars. 

Applicable provisions in the Establishments Code (Volume II) governing discipline of Public Officers:

General Conduct and Discipline

Section 1.4

An officer should at all times act in a manner befitting his public office. He should not commit any act that would bring the public service or the post he holds into disrepute. If an officer commits an act that would bring the public service or the post he holds into disrepute, such facts should be reported by his immediate superior or other authority to the Head of Department in which the officer is serving or to the Secretary to the Ministry in which he is serving or his Disciplinary Authority without delay.

Section 1.5

An officer shall not do anything which will bring his private interest into conflict with his public duty or which compromises his office. He should so conduct himself at all times as to avoid giving rise to any appearance of such conflict or of being so compromised. He should in particular observe carefully the provisions of Chapter XXIX of the Establishments Code. 

Section 1.8

An officer must be courteous towards the public and readily assist all persons visiting public offices on business. An officer should always be polite in his official acts and correspondence.


The First Schedule of Offences Committed by Public Officers

Applicable offences:

Offence (2)

 Act or cause to act in such manner as to bring the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka into disrepute.

Offence (3)

Anti-government or terrorist or criminal offences[1]

Offence (9)

Act or cause to act negligently or inadvertently or willfully in such manner as to harm government interests.

Offence (10)

Act in such manner as to bring the public service into disrepute

([1]by virtue of his conduct amounting to a threat or intimidation)