This week Channel 4 News broadcast a remarkable story about a dissident who climbed onto the roof of the Bahraini Embassy in London. The man, Moosa Mohammed, was part of a larger group protesting planned executions in Bahrain, executions which have been condemned by human rights organisations. The protest and underlying cause are rightly at the centre of the story, and the broadcast captures the confusion and drama of the night in question. Mr Mohammed is accosted on the roof by embassy staff, appears to be beaten by a man with a stick, and, in his interview with Channel 4 News, asserts that the embassy staff threatened to throw him off the roof. But the broadcast is also remarkable for it shows, on cell phone footage, the Metropolitan Police breaking open the embassy doors and entering the premises.
To say it is rare to see the police of a receiving state breaking open the doors of a foreign embassy is an understatement. As the broadcast highlights, the inviolability of diplomatic premises is established in international law. In this post, I will discuss the legality under international law of the UK’s actions. For the purposes of the legal analysis I will assume both that there was, on an objective level, a threat to the life/bodily integrity of Mr Mohammed and that the police were acting on the back of their perception of that threat. This factual position is disputed by Bahrain. First, I set out the case that the UK’s actions were unlawful on the basis of the unconditional rule in Article 22(1) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Second, I suggest that the better view is that the UK’s conduct was lawful, and discuss two routes to that conclusion. Third, I discuss the Bahraini Embassy’s statement.