General News of Friday, 24 April 2009
Accra, April 24, GNA - The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday justified the abrogation of the diplomatic status granted Africa Legal Aid (AFLA) saying the group and its representative had clearly shown "bad faith" in the use of the privileges and immunities purported to have been granted by the headquarters agreement with the government.
In a press statement dismissing claims by the Alliance for Accountable Governance (AFAG), a pressure group that lashed out at the Ministry for the way and manner the diplomatic privileges had been terminated, the Ministry described the purported headquarters agreement with AFLA as "a clear breach of the letter and spirit of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations".
AFAG at a news conference on Tuesday said "no dispute had occurred between the government of Ghana and Africa Legal Aid to warrant the termination of the provisions of the agreement".
It claimed that the action by the Foreign Minister, Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni, was a blatant disregard for mandatory provisions of the agreement and called on him as a matter of urgency to resign. However, the Foreign Ministry said the AFAG statement was "misleading and a gross distortion of the facts and legal issues involved". "In fact, the purported headquarters agreement with AFLA is a clear breach of the letter and spirit of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 as incorporated in the Diplomatic Relations Act 1962 (Act 148), in the sense that under customary international law, and by convention, a national of a state generally cannot have diplomatic status in their countries of citizenship and residence.
"The preamble to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations states clearly that the purpose of such privileges and immunities is not to benefit individuals but to ensure the efficient performance and functions of diplomatic missions as representing states." The statement said it was on the basis of this agreement, which purported to confer on the organisation's officials immunity from legal process even after their functions had ceased, that AFLA and AFLA Executive Director Ms Evelyn Ankomah had invoked diplomatic immunity to evade the legitimate claims of the creditors. The statement said in November 2007, a suit was brought against AFLA for breach of a tenancy agreement resulting in an outstanding rent of 22,400 dollars. The same year, another court action was brought by a German NGO for breach of contract involving 36,397 Euros and in both cases diplomatic immunity was invoked to evade the claims. "The Ministry therefore had to terminate the agreement specifically for the following reasons: gross abuse of the privileges and immunities granted immunity from civil and administrative jurisdiction granted under Article 37 of the Vienna Convention does not cover professional or commercial activity exercised by the diplomatic agent outside his official functions."
The statement said in any case the obvious sanction where a diplomat abused his/her immunity or misconducted himself/herself - declaring the diplomat persona non grata and asking him/her to leave the jurisdiction - could not be applied since the official in this case is a Ghanaian national. "This is the kind of absurdity this agreement can lead to." The Ministry said the agreement was also defective and for that matter null and void, adding there was nothing on record to show how approval was given and the approving authority before the agreement was signed.
"On the signature page, there is no indication of the name of the officer who signed on behalf of the Ministry and the names of those who witnessed on behalf of the Ministry. The Ministry is therefore not bound by the six months' notice stipulation." The Ministry said it was, meanwhile, reviewing all such agreements to ensure that they operated within the confines of the law and their mandates. 24 April 09