By Omar Alieu Touray
President Barrow’s recent appointment of various personalities as Ambassadors-at-large has drawn attention to a category of officials that, in the Gambian context, remains unknown to the general public. As a result, a number of questions have been raised, ranging from their suitability for the positions to the nature of their mandate.
This write-up is not about the suitability or the qualifications of the candidates. It is about the functions and status of Ambassadors-at-Large and about how this category of state agents differ from resident Ambassadors with whose status and functions we are all familiar.
Although the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 has codified and standardize diplomatic practice to a large extent, a lot of differences still exists among states. This explanatory note is therefore based largely on the practice of the Gambia and several developing countries.
An Ambassador-at-large is different from the ordinary resident Ambassador that represents one country in another country. Ordinary Ambassadors must obtain the clearance of the receiving state (known as agrement). This is why their appointment is publicized only after the clearance of the receiving state. An Ambassador-at-large may not require any such agrement especially when he or she is not resident outside the Gambia. However, in rare cases, the no-objection of the receiving state of the a resident Ambassador-at-large may be required. Unlike ordinary Ambassadors, Ambassadors-at-large do not present letters of credence to the head of state of the receiving state.
Ordinary Ambassadors are appointed with full powers to cover everything in the receiving state. Ambassadors at large are appointed for a specific purpose. For example, the majority of Ambassadors-at-large that the Gambia has appointed over the years are required to help attract investment and tourists into the Gambia. Developed countries would appoint Ambassadors-at-large for issues such as climate change, anti-slavery, peace, or even for major events such as the Olympic games, trade fairs and international expositions.
Ambassadors-at-large have hardly been on the official payroll of the Gambia government. If an Ambassador at large receives salary, he would do so in a capacity other than being an Ambassador- at-large. A managing director who is concurrently appointed Ambassador-at-large may receive his salary as MD, not as Ambassador-at-Large.
However, the state may cover the mission (travel) expenses of an Ambassador at large, either through the reimbursement of receipted expenses or through the payment of perdiem allowances.
The fact that the state does not remunerate an Ambassador-at-Large does not mean that the official does not benefit from the position. Some of them enjoy tax concession for expenses relating to their function. They also enjoy privileges such as access to diplomatic lounges or diplomatic immigration counters at selected airports.
Immunity and Privileges
The immunity of an Ambassador was the subject of a lengthy debate during the negotiation of the Vienna Convention. The consensus, as codified in the Convention, is that sitting Ambassadors are immune from arrest, detention and prosecution for anything they have done either in their official capacity or in their private capacity. Their offices and residences too are inviolable (i.e law enforcement officers cannot enter or search them). The sending state may, however, waive the Ambassador’s immunity.
Ambassadors-at-large enjoy functional immunity only. They are immune from arrest, prosecution and detention with respect to what they have said or done in the execution of their official duties alone. Unlike ordinary Ambassadors, Ambassadors at large may be arrested, detained and prosecuted for acts committed in their private capacity, especially in countries where they are not residents.
Use of Official Emblems
Ordinary Ambassadors are entitled to use their national emblems (especially flags) at their offices and residences. Their cars are also given diplomatic registration numbers. Ambassadors at large can use these emblems to the extent that they facilitate the execution of their official functions.
In a nutshell, jurisdictions differ in their practice relating to Ambassadors-at-large. In the Gambia Ambassadors-at-large are appointed to help attract investments and tourists into the country. They are generally not paid by the state . The majority of the Ambassadors-at-large are accomplished businessmen and businesswomen who offer their services to the Gambia on a voluntary basis. I have not seen the letters of commission of any of the newly appointed Ambassadors-at-large; but I have no reason to believe that the terms and conditions of the recent appointments deviate from the practice that the Gambia has followed since independence.