"None of their business?": Diplomatic involvement in human rights

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Diplomatic relations today are marked by an increasing (though hardly universal) willingness of diplomatic agents to leave their role as passive observers when faced with human rights violations in the receiving state. International law offers tools which allow their involvement in matters of this kind, including the right to make representations where erga omnes interests are concerned and the right to fulfil the functions of their office. At the same time, diplomats are also subject to legal duties which impose limitations on their conduct, and there is ample evidence that their hosts are keen to insist on their observance. That, however, causes a dilemma for diplomats who encounter human rights abuses, and international law has failed to provide a readily accessible solution to the problem. This article argues that the application of general principles of harmonisation offers a way out of the conflict: a method which recognises the inherent values of the relevant interests, and places them in a relationship in which each has room to survive. In so doing, it is possible to provide guidance for diplomats and foreign ministries in situations where human rights meet interests of the receiving state and to further an understanding of the interrelationship of the norms which permit and restrict diplomatic conduct in this field.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-227
Number of pages37
JournalMelbourne Journal of International Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2014


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