Britain looks for ways to stop diplomatic violence
An unarmed British policewoman gunned down in the streets of London. A former Nigerian Cabinet minister seized, drugged, and crated up for confinement back to Lagos.Skip to next paragraph
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Such unprecedented acts of diplomatic violence have outraged Britain, which sees itself as a model of legality.
What Britons are increasingly asking themselves is: What sort of protection does a law-abiding country have against those who brazenly flout accepted norms of international behavior?
The foiling of a bizarre plot to abduct former Nigerian Cabinet minister Umaru Dikko is only expected to increase pressures to put a stop to externally inspired acts of diplomatic violence.
The British government, a prime mover in strengthening international law against terrorism, is currently reviewing the 1961 Vienna Convention to see what changes it could make to avoid the abuses of diplomatic privilege.
The review was in direct response to the April shooting of policewoman Yvonne Fletcher from within the walls of the Libyan People's Bureau (embassy). The incident caused an uproar in Britain because diplomatic immunity enabled the expelled Libyans to leave the country without having their luggage inspected. The bags were suspected to have concealed the ''smoking gun'' involved in the shooting.
Less than three months later on July 5, Mr. Dikko, former Nigerian transport minister, was kidnapped outside of his plush Bayswater home, and drugged so he could be secreted out of the country in a wooden crate labeled ''Diplomatic baggage.''
The Nigerian Airways plane that was presumably waiting to ferry Mr. Dikko home was released after intensive police questioning. In return, the Nigerian government freed a British Caledonian aircraft held in Nigeria in retaliation for the British action.
Although the freeing of the planes has lessened political tension between the two countries, it leaves unresolved a diplomatic crisis if Britain should press charges against any Nigerian diplomats linked with Mr. Dikko's abduction.
The issue of how the Vienna Convention will be applied becomes problematic if the Nigerians involved request diplomatic immunity.
For both Nigeria and Britain, major trading partners and Commonwealth brethren, the latest crisis is exceedingly awkward and embarrassing. Unlike Libya, which prides itself on its revolutionary credentials, the military leaders of Nigeria, who took over in a bloodless coup on New Year's Eve, have striven for international recognition and respectability.
Seizing power was justified as the only recourse to eradicate a corrupt government exploiting the people. Much of the military government's credibility and early acceptance lay in the Nigerian public's willingness to believe the new government would succeed in bringing down prices and ending corruption.
If any person was seen as a symbol of a have/have-not syndrome of the previous administration - in which profligate life styles contrasted grotesquely with mass poverty - it was Umaru Dikko. His Mary Antoinette-like comment that he didn't see any starving people eating out of rubbish bins did more than anything else to incense Nigerians.
''It was incredibly insensitive,'' said a well-placed Nigerian after the coup.