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As I see it, if the French ambassador to Niger has been effectively sacked and become persona non grata with no diplomatic immunity, then how can the building still be an embassy? Surely now it's just a building with an unwelcome squatter which the host country does not want on their soil?

If the building belongs to the visiting state, could there be a compulsory purchase by Nigerien authorities, thus enabling legal access to the building to arrest and deport the hostile occupant?

This is about Niger only. Yes France has been told definitively they are persona no grata & all diplomatic ties on the ambassador & every member of his family, have been annulled.
I believe in International law it is seen as bad grace not to leave a host country when asked.

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    It should be noted that (even in the absence of a dispute about the legitimacy of the government) a decision to sever diplomatic ties does not expose the contents of the embassy to the receiving country's scrutiny. See article 45 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The receiving country is supposed to let the sending country remove its property and archives or to allow this to happen under the protection of a third country. This explicitly applies "even in case of armed conflict."
    – phoog
    Sep 4, 2023 at 11:04
  • "It is seen as a bad grace etc." : do you really think that complex political circumstances like this one in Niger deserves to be examined with "bad/good grace" lens ? Sep 5, 2023 at 9:17
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    Odd that this question implicitly acknowledges the coup leaders as the legitimate government of Niger, when that issue is currently under dispute. No major nation has recognized them, so why should we? Was this done on purpose, or did you not realize this?
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 5, 2023 at 15:01
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    Can't help but notice this is the second question we've got in a week on the subject of this particular embassy that implicitly recognized the coup plotters and tried to cast the French position as somehow problematic. It could be a coincidence, but the one country that seems to be in favor of the coup happens to be one also known for employing professional social media trolls and fixers.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 5, 2023 at 15:10
  • How well do you think it would go if the coup government decided to evict France from their embassy by force? They'd soon find themselves evicted from government by French, and possibly NATO coalition, overwhelming force. Sep 5, 2023 at 16:02

6 Answers 6

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The question assumes the core issue in dispute. France takes the position that Niger's new coup regime is not the legitimate government of Niger, so its pronouncements don't matter. Niger's coup regime disagrees.

Standoffs over which regime is legitimate can endure for a long time. For example, many countries in the world do not consider the direct successor to Syria's pre-civil war regime to be the legitimate government of Syria.

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    Okay, France still thinks it's an embassy -- but from the Nigerien perspective, is it an embassy or not? Is there a third-party "I have no dog in this fight, but I do like adhering to established norms of international law" perspective answer to the question?
    – R.M.
    Sep 5, 2023 at 1:36
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    @R.M. The whole point is the the "Nigerien perspective" is ill defined. Maybe the coup government will stick around and is the legitimate government, maybe it won't and isn't. The norms of international law do not require recognition of a coup regime as legitimate.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 5, 2023 at 2:57
  • Sorry, I was unaware I had to specify that when I said "the Nigerien perspective", I was specifically talking about the specific segment of Niger mentioned in the question who have issued the statement about the French ambassador. (I assumed we could take it as read that the people deposed in the coup would share France's perspective that the coup was not legitimate. I apologize for assuming that would be obvious.) If we assume that the "coup government" is "legitimate" (as they do of themselves) where does the status of the embassy fall?
    – R.M.
    Sep 5, 2023 at 11:51
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    @R.M. The bias is in the question, which assumes that the coup regime is legitimate (which all other things being equal, a coup regime is not), rather than reserving that as an open question. From the coup regime's perspective, it is illegal, but when power is seized illegitimately (which is always the case in a coup regime) the process by which the regime secures legitimacy in the international scene is ill-defined and discretionary and has to be proven battle by battle, issue by issue.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 5, 2023 at 15:18
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    @R.M. the junta has purported to declare the ambassador persona non grata. I haven't seen a clear indication that they have purported to end diplomatic relations altogether. In the absence of an end to diplomatic relations, the embassy is still an embassy, and even if they are ended it remains an embassy until its orderly closure.
    – phoog
    Sep 5, 2023 at 18:31
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the French ambassador to Niger has been effectively sacked and become persona non grata with no diplomatic immunity Surely now it's just a building with an unwelcome squatter which the host country does not want on their soil?

I'm not familiar with the situation, but generally speaking diplomatic immunity extends to more than the ambassador. Unless Niger has decided to [completely] break off diplomatic relations with France, the [loss of] status of the ambassador doesn't result in loss of status for the embassy building. N.B. here's the note from the Niger ministry (controlled by the junta), it makes no mention of breaking off relations or closing the embassy, and the last para rather argues for the opposite:

CM du 26 août 2023, a l’honneur de l’informer que la question de l’agrément de l’Ambassadeur de France est irrévocable et toute observation à ce sujet est sans objet.

Par conséquent, au terme du délai de quarante huit heures (48h) expiré à compter du 28 août 2023, l’intéressé ne jouit plus de privileges et immunités attachés a son statut de membre du personnel diplomatique de l’Ambassade. Les cartes diplomatiques et les visas de l’intéressé et des membres de sa famille sont annulés. Les services de police sont instruits afin de procéder à son expulsion.

Le Ministére des Affaires Etrangéres, de la Coopération et des Nigériens à l’Exterieur de la Republique du Niger saisit cette occasion pour renouveler au Ministére de l’Europe et des Affaires Etrangeres de la République Française les assurances de sa haute considération.

MINISTERE DE L’EUROPE ET DES AFFAIRES ETRANGERES
DE LA REPUBLIQUE FRANCAISE

OTOH your description of the situation might not actually be correct. According to Anandolu Agensi, Niger (or rather the ruling junta) might have done exactly that, i.e. broken off diplomatic relations with France and some other countries. FWTW, the BBC phrased it the same way "[the junta] announced that it was cutting diplomatic ties with Nigeria, Togo, the US and France [...]".

It's also worth nothing here that France doesn't recognize the junta [which came to power in a coup in July, it seems] as a legitimate government of Niger. Which is why the French ambassador refused to follow their orders (at Paris/Macron's explicit instructions, I might add). The same goes for the junta's call for the French troop contingent to leave Niger.

Finally, the US doesn't seem to call it a coup and has sent a replacement ambassador for their own... So the [older] press descriptions that Niger broke off diplomatic relations with the US appear to be wrong. My guess is that these moves (expelling ambassadors) were designed to force a recognition of sorts of the junta as legitimate government (rather than breaking off relations unconditionally--as reported earlier by the press), i.e. if the foreign power acquiesced and sent a replacement ambassador... Perhaps the most confusing/amusing bit is that both the US and Niger (now) are denying their former ambassador was expelled.

Niger's Foreign Ministry has told the U.S. government that images of letters circulating online calling for the departure of certain American diplomatic personnel were not issued by the ministry, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said.

"No such request has been made to the U.S. government," the spokesperson said after AFP reported that Niger had given the U.S. ambassador 48 hours to leave the African country.

The US managed to wiggle themselves out of outright formally recognizing the junta though:

Due to the current political crisis in Niger, Ambassador FitzGibbon will not formally present credentials.

Also, back at the end of July, supporters of the junta did physically storm the French embassy building. In similar situations countries did formally break off diplomatic relations before...

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"Considered" by whom?

The French government still considers them to be diplomatic facilities and so governed by treaties and international norms that such buildings are inviolable. The French government has said, "The French army is ready to respond to any renewed tension that would target French military and diplomatic facilities in Niger."

Moreover in their letter revoking the Ambassador's status the Military Junta wrote, "[He] no longer enjoys the privileges and immunities attached to his status as a member of the embassy's diplomatic staff." This would seem to imply that the Junta recognise the embassy, just not the ambassador. (Source for my quotes)

That could change. Your concern with "legal access" seems misplaced — The junta is not overly concerned with what is "legal", after all, the coup wasn't "legal" either. But there is a strong element of posturing here. What would be the benefits Niger would gain by storming the embassy weighed against the costs.

Normally an ambassador does leave when told to by the host country. The issue here is, who is the legitimate government? France doesn't recognise the Junta de jure, so they can say with some justification that no legal request has been made for the ambassador to leave.

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  • Coups are outside of legalities. The sovereign has been vanquished.
    – paulj
    Sep 5, 2023 at 19:13
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    @paulj "coups are outside of legalities": it's not as simple as that. If it were, one would have to conclude that much of the world is presently governed by illegitimate regimes.
    – phoog
    Sep 6, 2023 at 9:22
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The issue in this case is not the removal of the ambassador, but the legitimacy of the demand.

Normal process

When an ambassador becomes a persona non grata according to Article 43/(b) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations:

The function of a diplomatic agent comes to an end [...] On notification by the receiving State to the sending State that, in accordance with paragraph 2 of article 9, it refuses to recognize the diplomatic agent as a member of the mission.

The diplomatic mission (i.e. embassy) continues to operate and a new ambassador needs to be appointed.

Specific issues

France refuses to accept the current leadership/junta as representatives of the receiving State, therefore ordered Sylvain Itte to remain in the country.
He can stay in asylum at the embassy for as long as he wishes to (and France allows him). The longest such standstill lasted more than 29 years by Berhanu Bayeh and Addis Tedla at the Italian embassy to Ethiopia.
Answers to the questions:

  • how can the building still be an embassy?
    Circling back to Article 43/(b) the embassy remains operational, there was no request to close it by either Niger or France.
  • Surely now it's just a building with an unwelcome squatter which the host country does not want on their soil?
    In case the diplomatic mission should end, as said in phoog's comment to the post, the embassy's workers and documents would be entrusted to a third State and protected by Niger's government in accordance with Article 45 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
  • If the building belongs to the visiting state, could there be a compulsory purchase by Nigerien authorities, thus enabling legal access to the building to arrest and deport the hostile occupant?
    The diplomatic mission belongs to the sending State. The premises of the mission are inviolable in accordance with Article 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. This means the Niger authorities may not enter them or disrupt them. They can't force France to give up the premises even if they were hosting a hostile person (AFAIK Sylvain Itte was never declared hostile by Niger's military leadership, only unwelcome).

Conclusion

Sylvain Itte may remain at the embassy. Niger's military leadership/junta may refuse to accept documents issued by Sylvain Itte. If Sylvain Itte (or his family) is hurt or the Nigerian authorities enter the embassy premises they are in violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
I could only find a handful of cases where people in asylum were murdered by the receiving State since 1961 (Elena Quinteros, Mohammad Najibullah). Violating the Convention to prosecute Itte would put the Nigerian junta on the same page as the Pacheco regime and Taliban, which they likely will not risk. Itte leaving the premises for whatever reason would put him at a greater peril.

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Surely now it's just a building with an unwelcome squatter which the host country does not want on their soil?

Maybe from the point of view of supporters of Abdourahamane Tchiani and the junta government. However, the government of Mohamed Bazoum, last elected president of Niger, has never declared the French ambassador persona non grata, or revoked the status of the French embassy as an embassy.

France does not recognise Tchiani's junta government as legitimate, therefore it does not recognise that Tchiani has the authority to kick out the French diplomatic mission under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

That matters because France would consider the use of force on its embassy, ambassador, or diplomatic mission in general as an act of aggression in clear violation of international law. The European Union would probably agree (the EU currently agrees with France). The Economic Community of West African States likely as well (ECOWAS seeks to restore Bazoum, preferably peacefully). And there's always the risk other countries that have stayed neutral this far might end up taking a position against the junta.

At stakes here would be mainly economic sanctions (here is an overview of current sanctions, largely sanctions from ECOWAS while others are just suspending aid for the time being), which wouldn't be a terribly positive outcome for Nigeriens in general and Tchiani's regime in particular. Especially considering France is one of Niger's top trade partners.

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    "According to Abdourahamane Tchiani and the junta government, yes": is there some evidence that the junta government has ended diplomatic relations with France (or has purported to do so)?
    – phoog
    Sep 5, 2023 at 18:28
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    @phoog Diplomatic relations haven't ended, however the junta "revoked the diplomatic immunity of France’s ambassador and ordered police to expel him from the West African country" apnews.com/article/… Sep 6, 2023 at 6:31
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    That's true, but it has no bearing on the status of the embassy. If diplomatic relations continue then the embassy remains an embassy and the answer to the question quoted at the top of this answer is not "yes" but "no."
    – phoog
    Sep 6, 2023 at 9:19
  • @phoog I rephrased, the important part being that France disagrees. I'd note though that you can have diplomatic relations without an embassy. Sep 6, 2023 at 9:34
  • I'd imagine that the new government would be happy to have diplomatic relations if the French recognised the new government, and their actions are calibrated to disrupt any French attempt to restore the old government without getting the French too mad: taking over the embassy or demolishing it or something similar would not be sensible for a government that wants to avoid French military intervention.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 7, 2023 at 10:35
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Beyond the fact that there is a dispute over whether the junta has the authority to take that decision (which is the argument of Paris to refuse):

  • An embassy is not just an ambassador (there are lots of other staff with diplomatic accreditations, plus probably a lot more without). There is most certainly at least one consul general

  • There is a whole range of decisions countries take when they want to show their displeasure with the another one:

    • Call back their own ambassador in the other country for "consultations". Sometimes it last a few days, sometimes years.

    • Summon the other country's ambassador to their own Ministry of Foreign Affairs (where they supposedly give them a talking to).

    • Expel or revoke credentials of one or more people (ranges from the various spies attachés to the ambassador, which multiple levels in between)

    • Break diplomatic relations altogether (i.e. remove your ambassador from the other country and expel/revoke credentials of the other country's ambassador in yours).

Note that even when there is no ambassador, there often remains a "chargé d'affaires" which is basically just an ambassador without the title.

It would probably need to get to the "break diplomatic relations" stage before the embassy itself is closed. But even in countries which have no diplomatic relations, there is often still diplomatic presence, which may take various names or forms.

For instance, while Cuba and the USA officially broke diplomatic relations in 1961 and the embassy was closed at that time, and Fidel Castro ordered the building to confiscated in 1963, they never actually did. From 1977 there was a US "interests section" back in the building (big building on the Malecón right in the center of Havana, not really a discreet place). Officially it was neutral Switzerland managing that for the US, but reality is probably quite different. When relations thawed temporarily it became an Embassy again in 2015.

In some other places an embassy may have effectively been completely closed, confiscated or destroyed, for instance the US Embassy in Tehran following the Iran hostage crisis where the embassy was actually stormed by "students" who kept the whole staff hostage for 444 days. The US is now represented in Tehran by Switzerland, but contrary to Cuba, that doesn't happen in their former embassy.

I don't think they are at this stage yet.

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