Recently many of us read or heard about the suspension from duty of the honorary consul of a European nation (for the purposes of this blog it doesn’t matter what country she represented in a small part of the U.S.), for her political activity on social media.
The first question should be who/what agency can suspend an honorary consul? The answer should be obvious to any intelligent reader: whoever appointed the honorary consul in the first place. A quick review of what I like to call the consular institution tells us that honorary consuls are appointed by a foreign government to serve in the U.S. (remember, I write from the perspective of those functioning in the U.S. although most factors can be transposed throughout the world). But – and, there’s always the but – an appointment doesn’t mean an official status until the presumptive appointee has been approved by the U.S. Department of State. In this case, there was no question that the offending honorary consul was an officially recognized honorary consul.
The consul’s home government was in its full right to suspend her from duty, as they see fit. If she wishes to dispute this outcome she’ll have to present her arguments within the right channels and procedures of the country she represented.
The next question is then (although it isn’t really for us to ask, since nations are entitled to instruct their honorary consuls in the way they choose), was it the “right” thing for the country that appointed her to demand that she not engage in a politically offensive manner? Aah, this is where the rub is…
We know that many foreign governments fail to instruct their honorary consuls on anything. Often, there’s only a nice reception welcoming the new consul in the city where his/her office is located. That’s it. No instruction booklet, no written guidelines; – the honorary consul is simply launched to conduct his/her consular business any which way he/she pleases … till the day when the home government lowers the boom, like in this case.
Now, there are exceptions to the above. For instance, when I was appointed I was given oral and written instructions which were specific in telling me that I was not to engage in any political activities whatsoever. And then there’s international custom which holds that politics is the purview of the highest diplomatic level – the ambassador (in Washington) – and not of the consuls. Honorary consuls can interpret what their home governments do, but it’s not acceptable for them to issue statements of personal opinion on the politics of the country they represent.
The future will tell if this particular honorary consul will get her post back. But let’s not forget that if her home government revokes her suspension, the U.S. Department of State could in theory also revoke their prior approval of her, in which case she’d come out a loser in her struggle to remain an honorary consul.
Aren’t you dying of curiosity by now to know what her alleged offense was? Well, for that you’ll have to google … something.