Case Study: Independent Diplomat

The Independent Diplomat is a non-profit organization that promotes democracy, human rights and the rule of law around the world by providing diplomatic assistance and support.

As part of it’s mission, it works with beneficiaries already committed to the core principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and agree to continue to uphold these basic ethics. With offices in New York, Washington, London, Brussels and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the organization provides its clients with guidance on how to approach foreign governments or international organizations such as the United Nations or the European Union. They provide pro-bono and reduced cost services for a range of organizations, governments and cultural regions with no attached allegiance or affiliation to other governments or institutions.

Independent Diplomat provides ‘freelance’ diplomats to marginalized governments (i.e. governments of seceded or proto-states that do not (yet) have international recognition. Often these governments often have little experience in dealing with international bureaucracy. It works to enable broader participation in diplomatic forums such as the United Nations, European Union, African Union, etc. Independent Diplomat’s goal is to contribute to just and sustainable solutions to international problems by promoting inclusiveness and accountability in foreign policy. They often work for the least wealthy countries, which are often the most marginalized.

“ID goes where conventional diplomacy cannot or will not. Its advice helps marginalized peoples raise their voices in the halls of diplomatic
power, to produce better and more just decisions.”

-Gareth Evans, Former Australian Foreign Minister

The groups first projects was playing a role in helping Kosovo gain independence from Serbia from 2004 to 2007. The province had been under international rule since the war ended in 1999 until declaring independence last year, and has been recognized by about 60 nations so far. After the end of Serbian rule, Kosovo remained in legal limbo with no international agreement on Kosovo’s aspirations for an independent state.  The process to determine its “final” status was highly charged and controversial and was marked by deep international disagreement. At a time when Kosovo had no foreign service at all, Independent Diplomat digested and relayed key information from the informal grouping of major powers (the “Contact Group”) which controlled diplomacy over the Balkans, helping Kosovo leaders to clearly articulate their needs when negotiating their independence.

More than just helping regions navigate international law, the organization also helps with public perception and narrative building. For example, in the run-up to the 2014 UN General Assembly, ID worked with the Syrian National Coalition to define a diplomatic strategy that worked towards the larger objective of a political solution to the Syrian crisis.  A public diplomacy strategy was woven into the diplomatic strategy and continuously and rapidly adapted depending on the outcomes of meetings or changing events on the ground, including the late-night launch of US-led coalition airstrikes in Syria.

The organization says it has had significant impact as an intermediary, including arranging a recent meeting between EU officials and the president of Western Sahara’s government-in-exile. The territory was taken over by Morocco 35 years ago, and although a U.N.-negotiated truce in 1991 called for a referendum on its future, this has never been held.

The self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus requested the group’s assistance in negotiations to reunify the Turkish and Greek parts of the island. Cyprus was split along ethnic lines after the Turkish invasion in 1974, and thousands of Greek as well as Turkish Cypriots fled to the southern part of the island.

Other projects have included trying to build a Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, Somaliland, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and Western Sahara. They also assist the Republic of the Marshall Islands in navigating international diplomatic processes on climate change and manage a project to reform the working methods of the United Nations Security Council. The organisation has also assisted various non-profit organisations, including: Human Rights First, the International Center for Transitional Justice and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

The organization was founded in 2004 by former British diplomat Carne Ross, and is an innovative venture in the world of international relations. Independent Diplomat’s staff comprises experienced former diplomats, international lawyers and other experts in international relations.

The group also counsels established nations on issues where they lack expertise, including advising the Republic of the Marshall Islands on the U.N. climate change process and working with East European countries applying for EU membership. Independent Diplomat adheres to a strict policy of rejecting clients engaged in armed struggle, such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip or Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers.

Governments seek diplomats to advise them on various matters. According to Andrew Hudson, Executive Director of Crisis Action “Independent Diplomat fills a critical diplomatic deficit. Its advice and strategic counsel provides its clients – mainly those that struggle to be heard – with the tools to navigate the often closed world of diplomacy.” Describing itself, Independent Diplomat says that it ‘comprises experienced former diplomats, international lawyers and other experts in international relations. It has no allegiance or affiliation to other governments or institutions, and it works with a broad network of individuals and organisations, including law firms, commercial consultancies and universities, who support and assist our work on a pro bono basis. Independent Diplomat holds itself and its clients to strict ethical standards.’

The creator of the Independent Diplomat Carne Ross is a former British diplomat, and Middle East and WMD expert, who resigned in 2004 after giving then-secret evidence to a British inquiry into the Iraq war. After he quit, he founded the world’s first non-profit diplomatic advisory group, Independent Diplomat, which advises democratic countries and political movements around the world. Author of the Accidental Anarchist, Carne Ross argues that it is important to further ‘a condition of life’ based on principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. In fact Independent Diplomat requires its client to be committed to those principles, which may sound like more of what already exists, politically speaking, only Ross feels that democracy has failed to deliver on its ideals, that it has ‘created conditions in which people are beginning to voice their disapproval of the status quo.’

By receiving support entirely from grassroots donors, and being independent from any government or country, the Independent Diplomat is able to work by and with each region without a hidden agenda or bias other than to promote human rights, increased democr
atic governance, and a better standard of living.

Changelab Questions:

  • Are issues like democracy, human rights, the rule of law fundamental global principles, or will they be different in each different place? Are there ways to counter inherent cultural biases that we may have when addressing these issues?

  • What are the pitfalls of traditional diplomacy carried out by countries or nations, or without currently existing international bodies and agreements?

  • What are the advantages for International Diplomacy to not be connected to a government, or a national funding entity?

  • What lessons can learn from International Diplomacy for building interbioregional organizations, how we may be able to apply this to other globally based issues, or for building structures for solidarity, mutual aid and support?

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