Diplomatic Interference and Competing Interests in International Law

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Diplomatic agents navigate between Scylla and Charybdis. They are sent abroad to fulfil particular tasks – to create goodwill among the local population, to negotatiate with the goverment of the receiving State; perhaps even to monitor the human rights situation in that State. At the same time, they are expected not to interfere in the receiving State's internal affairs. That is not only a moral obligation: the prohibition on interference is expressly codified in diplomatic law, and receiving States insist on its observance. This coinciding of diverging interests has therefore become a legal concern; and diplomats and States alike look to the law for guidance. But the law has struggled with this point – a clear assessment can be derived neither from the Convention nor from existing case law.

This article approaches the problem by analysing and challenging the concept of diplomatic interference. Based on cases from the rich history of diplomatic relations, it explores the interests both of sending and receiving States which have an impact on diplomatic conduct, and examines several possible ways to assess their co-existence. The article identifies the principle of proportionality as a method which appreciates the values of the diverging interests; and it offers practical guidance to States and diplomats alike in situations in which allegations of interference are likely to arise.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)178-247
JournalBritish Yearbook of International Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Diplomats
  • Interference
  • Proportionality
  • Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations


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