Unprecedented Violation of Vienna Convention
Located on the north-west outskirts of Belarus’s capital city Minsk, Drozdy is a residential compound where some senior Belarusian government and Communist Party officials lived before the breakup of the Soviet Union. After Belarus declared its independence in 1991 and its recognition by the international community resulted in the establishment of diplomatic relations, the government of Belarus offered arriving foreign ambassadors to come reside in Drozdy, a leafy , quiet and guarded neighborhood. First diplomatic tenants appeared in Drozdy as early as in 1992, a long time before the very institution of the presidency in Belarus and Belarus’s first presidential election.
In April 1998 the Belarusian authorities informed those chiefs of mission who lived in Drozdy that they would have to vacate their residences due to the alleged need of utility repairs. The diplomatic dialogue that ensued to persuade the Belarusian authorities to reverse their decision, clearly in violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the valid leases signed by respective foreign missions and the government of Belarus, was followed by a string of deadlines set by the Belarusian government, unacceptable for their categorical form. Other deplorable events, like an attempt to weld shut a gate to the U.S. ambassador’s residence, blocking off vehicular access to the compound, intrusions of the territories of the residences, led to the departure of the EU and U.S. ambassadors from Belarus on June 22, 1998 and such subsequent retaliatory measure as travel restrictions by the EU on a range of senior Belarusian officials. The U.S. joined the move on July 14, 1998, also suspending some military exchange programs involving GoB officials.
This international reaction was due to the unprecedented violation of the recognized standards of treatment of foreign diplomats. The centuries old tradition codified in the Vienna Convention is that diplomats need to be able to live and work free from intimidation. If they don’t feel secure in their homes and chanceries, they cannot perform their diplomatic duties.
For months since June 1998 the U.S. Government has made clear to the Belarusian Government that any satisfactory resolution to the Drozdy issue that would send U.S. Ambassador back required recreating a secure legal basis for any future U.S. residence in Minsk. Belarus violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and unilaterally abrogated the government-to-government agreement by which we had acquired our residence at Drozdy.
U.S. Ambassador Daniel Speckhard returned to Belarus in September 1999 after the resolution of the compensation issue and additional assurances by the Belarusian government that it would strictly abide by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in the future.