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Recently the coup leaders in Niger asked the French ambassador to leave.

France declined the request and the ambassador is still in the embassy. The Nigerien coup's "government" considers his presence illegal and the ambassador may face arrest if he leaves the embassy.

I know that a Nigerien government cannot remove him by force since the embassy is considered to be French territory.

But can they for example cut food supply and electricity from the embassy forcing him to leave?

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    Cutting supplies can be considered an act of war, so it's not that easy.
    – Ccm
    Aug 28, 2023 at 13:15
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    For the sake of exactness, the embassy isn’t actually France, but per multilateral treaties, host forces need permission to enter.
    – origimbo
    Aug 28, 2023 at 13:31
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    The current Nigerien government could of course violate international law and storm the embassy anyway. I assume that is not the answer you are looking for.
    – xyldke
    Aug 28, 2023 at 13:44
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    The fact that this person happens to be the ambassador is irrelevant, and is just confusing things. The question is how a country can force anyone who is holed up in a foreign embassy to leave the embassy and hen the country.
    – Mike Scott
    Aug 29, 2023 at 8:41
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    It should be noted that the French government doesn't recognise the government that wants its ambassador expelled. From the French point of view, the ambassador would leave if the legitimate Nigerien government expelled him, but the order came from a junta that performed a coup, that is, by a bunch on Nigerien citizens that can't give any orders in any official capacity.
    – Pere
    Aug 29, 2023 at 11:44

5 Answers 5

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By declaring them "persona non grata" and telling them they need to leave. Just because someone is named as an ambassador doesn't mean that the host country is forced to accept them. This action has been taken many times in the past when one country does something that another country doesn't like.

So, How Do You Expel an Ambassador, Anyway?

It depends on why you’re expelling them. The 1961 Vienna Treaty on Diplomatic Relations, which codifies concepts such as diplomatic immunity and the inviolability of embassies, gives states quite a bit of leeway on kicking out diplomats. Article 9 states, "The receiving state may at any time and without having to explain its decision, notify the sending state that the head of the mission or any member of the diplomatic staff of the mission is persona non grata or that any other member of the staff of the mission is not acceptable. In any such case, the sending state shall, as appropriate, either recall the person concerned or terminate his functions with the mission."

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    The "problem" is that the ambassador still resides inside the embassy, so an order to leave is unenforceable. Is there a way to expell the entire diplomatic mission, thus removing the protections on the embassy itself?
    – xyldke
    Aug 28, 2023 at 13:46
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    @xyldke Unless you are suggesting that they use military force (or some other form of force) to remove the ambassador from the country all they can do is declare that they are not welcome and ask nicely.
    – Joe W
    Aug 28, 2023 at 15:26
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    @JoeW, just to clarify, the question was how to force ambassadors to leave. Are you effectively saying you can't force ambassadors to physically leave by any conventional process, short of declaring war or striking the embassy with some kind of military force?
    – Steve
    Aug 28, 2023 at 21:13
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    @Steve I showed what has been done to have ambassadors removed from the country. If they are unwilling to leave after that what else is there you can do to get them to leave besides military force or some other force? And just to note that doesn’t mean it is declaring war.
    – Joe W
    Aug 28, 2023 at 22:05
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    The main bit of information here being "the receiving state", and France point of contention being that the folks who asked are not the receiving state, and therefore have no authority to ask the ambassador to leave.
    – Maxime
    Aug 29, 2023 at 7:15
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International norms treat embassies as sovereign territory of the nation that established the embassy. Any attack or incursion by the host country would be condemned and sanctioned by a large segment of the international community, and might be interpreted as an act of war by the embassy country. An expelled ambassador who refuses to leave the country would be forced to remain in the embassy, and would be safe there (comparatively speaking), but would be effectively useless without any contact with the host country's administration. The host nation could sever diplomatic ties with the embassy nation completely, of course — this would force the embassy to close, remove its 'sovereign territory' status, and compel everyone to leave — but that would be a drastic step.

It's worth noting that these kinds of maneuvers are generally shadow-boxing. Niger and France are both posturing, and will continue to do so until they've made their respective position clear (whatever those might be), and then will most likely settle back into a new diplomatic relationship. The more things change, the more they stay the same...

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    "International norms treat embassies as sovereign territory of the nation that established the embassy." I might be nitpicking, but that's not what the Vienna Convention says. Article 22, section 1: "The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission." It's still the territory of the host country - but they can't enter it without the ambassador's permission. Aug 28, 2023 at 16:36
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    @TedWrigley I don’t believe that’s the commonly accepted definition of sovereign territory. The host countriy’s laws still apply, they are just difficult to execute. Wikipedia isn’t a brilliant source, but it does have some discussion at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraterritoriality
    – origimbo
    Aug 29, 2023 at 7:35
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    – cpast
    Aug 31, 2023 at 2:48
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    – Philipp
    Sep 4, 2023 at 9:14
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As other answers have pointed out, the host country can just declare the ambassador a persona non grata and they would legally be forced to leave the country.

"Storming the embassy" by Nigerien troops to expel them would be a violation of the embassy and a (further) diplomatic incident. Technically, cutting off the embassy from supplies will also cause an incident. The ambassador staying in the embassy also is a violation of the treaty, however. So we reach an impasse.

In the case of Niger, the issue is that the current "government" is considered illegitimate by France. Hence, they lack the authority to expel the French ambassador. If France were to withdraw their ambassador, they could be seen as legitimizing the coup. So, for the time being, this is not an option (until the costs become too high, and another excuse can be used).

Addendum: usually, withdrawing the ambassador would be seen as delegitimizing the host country and a sign of cooling relations. But that only counts, if the sending country does it of their own volition. So, France stays put and waits.

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    This is the correct answer. Niger's government, some of which is currently being held hostage by violent coup plotters, has made no such request. From France's perspective, an "order" to leave from the coup plotters has no more legitimacy behind it than if you or I issued the same order.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 29, 2023 at 22:13
  • @T.E.D. Whoa. That is a worrying way to look at things. Suppose that we were not talking about Niger, a fairly powerless country. Let's say we were talking about the USA and a hypothetical hijacking of election results. Would you support the French government becoming an arbiter, on US territory, of who the legitimate US government is? Or should that be left for US courts to decide? With perhaps a recall of the French ambassador if the French government was really upset? Or even a shutdown of diplomatic relations? I don't know what the precedents are but this seems controversial. Aug 31, 2023 at 22:47
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica states being souvereign is not just a saying, the world of diplomacy is a barely regulated anarchy. France would have the ability not to accept the election results, but will also bear the consequences. It would be a meddling in internal matters for sure. And in a country with functioning rule of law, this option would be unlikely. Niger is not such a country. Keep in mind that not respection this expulsion order is not the easy way out either.
    – Chieron
    Sep 1, 2023 at 7:56
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica - That's perfectly normal. Every country of course has to make its own decision here, and that's the way its always been, including during the American Revolution (Continental Congress was recognized by France, Spain, and Netherlands), and the US Civil War (Confederacy was never recognized by anyone).
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 1, 2023 at 13:21
  • @T.E.D. The examples you cite apply to essentially new countries - which bring in the issue of recognition or not. Not just internal governmental changes, legitimate or not. Downgrading the prerogatives around issuing non-grata status risks also eroding the prerogatives around diplomatic immunity. With consequences that are unlikely to be positive even though the cause seems just at the moment. Careful what you wish for and all that. Sep 1, 2023 at 18:21
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Embassies are not foreign territory

I know that the Nigerien government cannot remove him by force since the embassy is considered to be French territory.

This is untrue, an embassy remains the territory of the host country. It is a common misconception though.

Access to the embassy by agencies of the host government is restricted by international agreement, in particular the Vienna convention. Agencies of the host country may not enter the grounds of the embassy without the permission of the head of the diplomatic mission (the ambassador in this case). This is what prevents the Niger police or other agencies removing the ambassador from the embassy in Niger.

Example:


Diplomatic Immunity can be revoked unilaterally by the host.

A host government can declare any member of a mission as persona non grata. That person may leave freely within a reasonably short period but their diplomatic protection is revoked and if they do not leave, they may be arrested in the same way as any foreign visitor can be. They are then subject to the jurisdiction of the host nation.

Vienna Convention article 9:

Article 9

  1. The receiving State may at any time and without having to explain its decision, notify the sending State that the head of the mission or any member of the diplomatic staff of the mission is persona non grata or that any other member of the staff of the mission is not acceptable. In any such case, the sending State shall, as appropriate, either recall the person concerned or terminate his functions with the mission. A person may be declared non grata or not acceptable before arriving in the territory of the receiving State.

  2. If the sending State refuses or fails within a reasonable period to carry out its obligations under paragraph 1 of this article, the receiving State may refuse to recognize the person concerned as a member of the mission.

(my emphasis)

What constitutes "a reasonable period" is a matter of local law (in the host state). For example, in Canada it is 10 days

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    "an embassy remains the territory of the host country" seems to be a distinction without practical difference. If the host country can't enter it, it might as well be foreign territory.
    – Barmar
    Aug 29, 2023 at 15:10
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    @Barmar The courts of the host country may prosecute people who do not have immunity for any crimes committed inside the embassy if evidence is available, without needing to invoke universal jurisdiction or anything like that.
    – bdsl
    Aug 29, 2023 at 15:52
  • @Barmar go to an embassy and commit a petty crime. You'll soon see whose territory the embassy is.
    – phoog
    Aug 30, 2023 at 0:04
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    "Diplomatic Immunity can be revoked at will by the host": this is incorrect. Only the sending state -- France in this case -- can waive diplomatic immunity (article 32). Privileges and immunities do cease "on expiry of a reasonable period in which to [leave the country]," but not "with respect to acts performed...in the exercise of his functions as a member of the mission." As far as I've seen "reasonable period" is typically taken to be 30 or 60 days.
    – phoog
    Aug 30, 2023 at 0:53
  • @phoog, Although I am unsure what exactly you mean, I have updated the answer. To me, declaring someone persona non grata is entirely separate from the mission waiving immunity. The host nation unilaterally declaring someone persona non grata results in that person losing diplomatic immunity after a reasonable period, perhaps after only ten days. Aug 30, 2023 at 14:00
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Too many people are focussing on the application of force (i.e. using a violent approach), which happens extremely rarely with embassies (cough, Iran, cough).

So how could the Niger government compel/force France to take back its ambassador, without resorting to violence? As there is no way to use violence on an embassy without infringing international norms.

If the Niger government is really serious and not just posturing it could make France's position untenable in the long run. Remember that France presumably has an embassy in Niger to benefit its own, French, interests. If those interests are not being served by the current situation at the embassy, it may have to revise that situation.

Niger could for example limit contacts between its own officials and embassy members other than the ambassador. Now, as that ambassador is not recognized... All sorts of actions and impediments are possible, short of violating international treaties that could make this into a hassle for France. Soviet Russia had all sorts of nifty tricks in its bag.

This is not to support Niger's current illegitimate government. But if they are serious and not just posturing - an assessment I share with Ted's answer - they could maintain pressure and I expect France would eventually back down.

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  • "Too many people are focusing on the application of force": the question is specifically about the use of force.
    – phoog
    Aug 31, 2023 at 21:21
  • "Application of force" means using military/violent means. You can force/compel someone to do something without being violent. Clarifying that in the answer. Aug 31, 2023 at 22:40
  • Anyway, that's already mentioned in the Q: I know that a Nigerien government cannot remove him by force. Aug 31, 2023 at 22:50
  • I don't see how limiting contact between government officials and embassy officials would force anything to happen.
    – Joe W
    Sep 3, 2023 at 3:10

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