Associate professor, PhD at the Department of Diplomatic Service and Communication of the Faculty of International Relation of YSU

The Golden Rules

1. LISTENING, RESPECTING AND UNDERSTANDING; all diplomats make it their task to try to grasp the culture, psychology and situation of their country of accreditation. Additionally, it is a sign of support for civil society when diplomats seek contact with local NGOs and groups on taking up responsibilities, especially when Heads of Mission make introductory calls. The first step is to ask for advice from local civil society how best to support their efforts. Respecting and understanding the different roles and interests of all partners in the democratic development process is a basic requirement for productive relationships and successful support. Outsiders also have to understand and respect the ways in which the local reform process needs to take account of traditional values: social and political practices common in one country can be abrasive in another.

Nota bene: Overall, the first maxim of ‘respecting’ is to listen (ideally in the language of the country). This includes the need for diplomats to recognise the risks and sacrifices incurred by democratic activists, as well as the challenges they face in running for political office in authoritarian settings. Usually, dissidents believe that contact with diplomats is protective and helpful, but their judgement should prevail. Sometimes particular Embassies, governments are more ‘radioactive’ than others, leaving room only for the less controversial to sustain contact and protection. A differentiation of roles which best enables particular countries to play to comparative strength, credibility, and experience is very useful. In some circumstances the initiatives of civil society are best pursued without any evidence of outside support from government representatives, and diplomats find it useful to defer to the different and often primary roles played by international NGOs in local activity.[…] 

2. SHARING; solidarity among democracies multiplies effectiveness. Like-minded Embassies, Community of Democracies members, and engaged international NGOs need to share information, and practice project coordination and team play in order to optimize beneficial impacts. Monitoring elections is frequently done as a shared diplomatic project. All these efforts are most effective when local partners are also part of the sharing process and able to assume responsible local "buy-in”. Diplomats in the field can become "cohering agents” of support programs combining democracy and development.

Nota bene: It is generally easier to organize informal cooperation in the field than among capitals, especially among representatives of like-minded countries seeking to organize informal international policy groupings. These often also include international NGOs which are well-placed to provide a wider and more authentic picture of grass-roots and technical activity to promote democracy development. An emphasis on "sharing”, however, must be very conscious of respecting the apt division of labour, as, for example, between Embassies and NGOs. An expanding interest on the part of Embassies in democracy assistance needs to defer to the primary and often locally preferred engagement of NGOs in the field. […]

Truth in Communications
3. REPORTING; confidential assessment is at the core of diplomatic responsibility. In reporting on the likelihood of a democratic process emerging or being successfully sustained, Missions have to assess the local situation, capacity, and psychological, political, or even cultural constraints. Making analysis of the situation and prospects for human rights and governance in a host country part of a regular reporting process to capitals (and to public outlets as the case may be) encourages rigour in analysis. It also helps the development of a template approach to benchmarks and norms to assist in comparisons and common evaluations by NGOs and centres of excellence.

Nota bene: Reporting must be demonstrably comprehensive and also balanced in its sourcing. Diplomatic professionals always heed the question as to their confidential and value-added reporting of circumstances and conditions in the host country draws from a wide range of contacts in the society (such as the "township attaches” at the British Embassy in South Africa, early 1990s), and avoids excessive deference to official sources or to over-arching security or other bilateral interests. […] 

4. INFORMING; in circumstances where the host state severely circumscribes information, providing the public with pertinent objective information is a public service of open diplomacy. Supporting the emergence of local independent media which is an essential companion of democratic governance is a valued contribution by democracies, as is assisting the development of objective public broadcasting in transitional and emerging democracies.

Nota bene: Independent media support has become a basic tool of public diplomacy. Though international communications services such as BBC World Service, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio-France, Al Jazeera, etc. are globally available, their transmissions are often jammed in crisis situations. The emergence of independent local media is an essential component of democratic governance. In its absence, regular communication of news bulletins and information by Missions can help fill gaps and correct the record on international or other matters, especially as authoritarian regimes are wont to expel foreign correspondents who criticize them. In such circumstances, diplomats can also serve as witnesses of developments otherwise hidden from international view, including indirectly back to the closed society itself via external broadcast services. Defence of journalists in support of Journalists without Boarders and PEN International is an important part of human rights defence. […]

Working with the Government
5. ADVISING; helping government and civil society develop and sustain capacity for effective and transparent democratic governance is increasingly a core vocation of many diplomatic Missions and diplomats from Community of Democracies member states.

Nota bene: Wide-spread transitional assistance programs for democracy development and consolidation are often coordinated by diplomatic Missions which also have a role in scouting for opportunities, making contacts, and identifying programmes which are not working, as well as helping to ensure that assistance takes into account local conditions, capacities, and needs. Diplomats in the field can also advise how to support groups in civil society most capable of encouraging "bottom-up” and "middle-out” change essential to the process of democratic transformation. […]

6. DIALOGUING; diplomats on the ground take part in, and supplement regularly scheduled government-to-government human rights and democracy discussion which can place democracy development and respect for human rights at the centre of the relationship, and signal that cooperation programmes are conditional on improved governance. Such regular discussions can also serve to legitimize democracy development support work undertaken by the mission in collaboration with local civil society. The promotion of dialogue processes to promote common ground in divided societies is a strong emphasis of such international NGOs as IDEA (Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance) which has undertaken several participatory dialogue exercises in support of positive change in such countries as Guatemala, Mauritania, and Nepal.

Nota bene: It is important that such government to government discussions be regular. They need to cover the "end-state” aims in democracy development and not be confined to specific human rights violations or outrages. In order to avoid the "fig-leaf” effect of going through the motions for the sake of appearances, discussants should ideally not be limited to host country diplomatic authorities but should also include authoritative representatives of "power ministries”, as well as having the in-country support of security agencies of both sides. […]

7. DEMARCHING; using official channels to identify emerging or actual problems involving local authorities, to protest human rights violations, and to seek removal of restrictions and obstacles to reformers and NGOs, remains a classic tool of diplomats and Missions, best exercised as part of the above sustained dialogue on the status of human rights.

Nota bene: The technique of privileged diplomatic contact has also been very important in conveying messages to the host country about future conduct or further developments. Usually, such demarches are private. They may represent an alternative to public stands if these are judged apt to harden the authorities’ positions, or otherwise be counter-productive. High-profile quarrels between an Embassy and the host government should not be allowed to displace the efforts of local democratic reformers which merit pride of place. […]

Reaching Out
8. CONNECTING is related to "informing,” but more in the sense of putting people in contact with each other. Civil society provides democracy’s building blocks. But increasingly, international relations are organised around informal networks of working contacts. Bringing local reform groups and individuals into contact with outsiders is at the heart of people-to-people diplomacy, through such activity as visits, conferences, exchanges, and safe public access to the Internet and satellite communications from Mission libraries. Aims include enabling civil society to access assistance programs and international NGOs, and helping individuals connect to the wider world and pursue direct working relationships, as well as family ties. Connecting senior levels of government and members of the democratic opposition and society to contacts in the sending state are important tools. In more closed societies, the message from civil society outside that non-violent change is possible to build confidence and hope among civil society groups inside and even among more reform-minded authorities.

Nota bene: Civil society is formed by a whole network of groups beyond the control of the state, which takes time to develop. Each component is actually devoted to specific purposes, such as women’s and youth issues, human rights, ecological protection, HIV/AIDS, culture, science, or even sports. Often, their purpose is not political, although the experience of participation in seeking to advance issues of citizens’ concern can promote a jump from specific functional objectives to wider ones. Such interest and action groups value contacts with NGOs and others able to help them advance their specific interests. But their experience provides them with increasing legitimacy and influence. Taken together, they form the social capital which is the foundation of democratic development. […] 

9. CONVENING; providing a safe locale for discussion, including among adversaries, has enabled contacts and exchanges aimed at the resolution of conflicts. Diplomats can also offer a venue for democratic activists to meet safely, helping them promote a legitimate status.

Nota bene: Diplomats posted to third countries can also play a convening role vis-à-vis locally resident political exiles, as well as supporting visiting oppositionists from inside the country, or organising confidential third country contacts between adversaries. […] 

10. FACILITATING; using the good offices of Missions and diplomats to convene parties on ostensibly neutral ground in order to facilitate positive cooperation among democrats, reconciliation of different ethnic or other groups in pluralist societies, or encouraging democrats and local authorities to seek to advance democratic outcomes. Diplomats can legitimately help peace activists with transmission of messages to others, and to the outside. Missions can also play a role in facilitating third-country peaceful abdication or exist strategies for discredited authoritarian figures. […]

11. FINANCING; providing needed arms’ length resources to a range of local groups, individuals, and projects can be especially valuable to start-up NGOs, independent media, or anti-poverty action groups. Often small projects avoid the sorts of government controls and bureaucratization associated with large-scale aid activity. But Embassies have the critical role of "spotting” for more substantial financing for larger projects which can be worthwhile.

Nota bene: Protests by authorities of "outside financing” are common and lead in many cases to curbs and restrictions. Precious financial assistance will be marred if it can be made to appear motivated by ulterior political considerations. […] 

12. SHOWCASING; at the heart of public diplomacy, democratic development showcasing is less a matter of national self-promotion than an effort to offer solutions relevant for local application. By virtue of their outreach, Missions are in a position to highlight via seminars, training, conferences, and even cultural narratives, norms accepted elsewhere, best practices, and successful achievement which can offer models for the public, local authorities, NGOs and reform groups. As mentioned earlier, representatives of democracies which have themselves emerged from repressive regimes have enhanced credibility as mentors of human rights defenders and democratic activists today. Also, all societies have had to confront the correction of abusive civil liberties situations in the past, and these too can form presentational assets in emerging democracies facing the challenges of change and reconciliation.

Nota bene: Sometimes "best practices” which merit support and showcasing emerge from within the host country itself, such as economic, sports, or social activities which cross ethnic lines in otherwise divided societies. Exposing security forces to best practices in human rights and democratic practices via international training can help to prevent harsh reactions to non-violent protests; mirror discipline training for civil society in non-violent techniques can reduce the risk of counter-productive provocation.

Defending Democrats
13. DEMONSTRATING support for human rights defenders, democratic activists and reformers, by using the prestige and offices of the Head of Mission and other diplomats to show in public respect and even solidarity enables Missions to send the message that such citizens and groups have legitimacy and importance in the eyes of outside partners. Diplomats generally understand that such demonstration needs to stop short of seeming to embrace particular individuals or parties with respect to democratic political outcomes, but there must be care taken always to be seen supporting a democratic process and not specific results. Encouraging international humanitarian awards and recognition for human rights defenders also helps legitimize their positions in their own countries.

Nota bene: Public demonstrations or protests in authoritarian societies require courage and the willingness of citizens to entertain risks in the exercise of freedom of speech. Such courage merits support in public of their rights by democratic representatives, without however implying that outsiders are themselves acting in other than moral support. The public representation of sympathy by diplomats on specific issues or events can be used in tandem with private demarches to authorities. All diplomats need access to grass-roots activity and opinion, but in presentation, it is important to demonstrate that the Head of Mission is the visibly engaged chief officer for human rights, while avoiding making him or her a lightening-rod for the hostility of host country authorities. […]

14. VERIFYING and WITNESSING; the verifying of election processes and results is an important and widespread international practice in which diplomatic missions have an ongoing responsibility. The witnessing of trials and hearings by diplomats is also widespread and is now generally accepted internationally as a means of providing or supporting an independent verification of disputes, or the health of detainees. There are, of course, terrible histories of fearful and depraved repression of opponents and activists without any concession to pretence of legal authority, such as the tens and thousands of murders carried out by the Argentine military 1976-83. But today even autocratic regimes prefer to display the trapping of a legal process, however sham. In the Internet age, summary trials of dissidents and activists can rarely be completely hidden from view. "Show trials” meant to distort the truth for public consumption are similarly exposed for what they are. In taking public and private issue with the distortion of the process of justice for repressive political purposes, diplomats are representing the norms and standards of universally applicable human rights and the rule of law, and the arguments by repressive authorities that these matters are strictly internal concerns without merit.

Nota bene: Enquiries and demarches about detainees and political prisoners need to focus on the illegitimacy of their incarceration, in addition to the conditions and circumstances of prisoners. International and diplomatic scrutiny of elections themselves is also by now widespread; but inadequate attention is paid to prior and ongoing support for the selection, formation, and training of preparatory and supervisory national election commissions. […]

15. PROTECTING: "We were very active in attending political trials, so that defendants knew that if anything would happen to them, there would be protests” (a diplomat in Prague, 1980’s). Visible support for individuals and groups under threat, as well as their families, provides reassurance for democratic activists and human rights defenders and NGOs. Ultimately, in the event of breakdown and crisis, Missions have performed an essential humanitarian function by giving refuge to asylum-seekers. […]
2503 reads | 19.12.2013

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