The expulsion of Syrian diplomats

Image source: Voice of America
On 29 May 2012 the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, announced that the highest ranking Syrian diplomat in Australia, Chargé d'Affaires Jawdat Ali, was being expelled from the country in response to recent atrocities in Syria. Ali and one other Syrian diplomat were given 72 hours to leave Australia.

There has been no Syrian Ambassador to Australia since Tammam Sulaiman left Australia in October 2010. It has been suggested that the Australian Government has been delaying the processing of the credentials of the prospective new Ambassador, Mohammed Khaddour, in response to the manner in which the Syrian authorities have responded to protests.

Coordinated international effort

Within hours of Senator Carr’s announcement, the governments of the US, Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany, Spain, Bulgaria, Switzerland and the Netherlands all declared some Syrian diplomats in their countries to be ‘persona non grata’. In all cases, the highest-ranking in-country diplomat was expelled.

The expulsion of diplomats is made under Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), which states:
The receiving 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.
Each government has made it clear that the move resulted from the massacre on 25 May in the village of Taldou, near Houla in Syria’s Homs Governorate, in which at least 108 people were killed, including 49 children and 34 women.

Attributing blame for the massacre

The opposition Syrian National Council, along with some human rights groups and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, have blamed regime forces for the killings. The US Government has done likewise, specifically accusing pro-regime militias of perpetrating the massacre:
We took this action in response to the massacre in the village of Houla – absolutely indefensible, vile, despicable massacre against innocent children, women, shot at point-blank range by regime thugs, the shabiha, aided and abetted by the Iranians, who were actually bragging about it over the weekend.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said similarly that ‘the Syrian regime bears the responsibility for the horrifying events in Houla.’

Russia, the Syrian regime’s most consistent supporter to date, stated that both pro-government forces and rebels were responsible for the killings:
Both sides have obviously had a hand in the deaths of innocent people, including several dozen women and children. This area is controlled by the rebels, but it is also surrounded by the government troops.
Despite this, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has used some uncharacteristically strong language towards Syria, arguing that the Government ‘bears the main responsibility for what is going on’. Russia also allowed the issuing of a United Nations Security Council ‘press statement’ condemning the massacre. The statement also
...demanded that the Government of Syria immediately cease the use of heavy weapons in population centres and immediately pull back its troops and its heavy weapons from in and around population centres and return them to their barracks.
Some have suggested that this incident might signal a change in Russia’s position on the Syrian uprising, allowing for stronger action by the United Nations Security Council.

Recent diplomatic expulsions by the Australian Government

The last time a diplomat was expelled from Australia was in May 2010 when an unnamed Israeli diplomat was expelled over the alleged misuse of Australian passports in the assassination of a Hamas operative in Dubai in January 2010.

Prior to that, in March 2003, Australia expelled an Iraqi diplomat, Helal Ibrahim Aaref, with the then Foreign Minister Downer saying that the Government had ‘real security concerns’ about this person in particular. Later that month all Iraqi diplomatic staff were expelled from Australia. Mr Downer argued at the time that ‘this course of action is clearly a logical and prudent step in a situation where Australia is engaged in military action against Iraq’.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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