Britain’s threats against Assange are a violation of international law

What are we to make of the Julian Assange drama unfolding in London these days?

Assange may be a hero or villain (I lean towards the former) to millions of people and internet users all over the world for establishing Wikileaks and exposing the hypocricy of governments’ (especially the U.S.’s) foreign policies, but, and it must be said, his decision to seek asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, was not his finest moment. Though the gambit may have achieved its ultimate purpose of gaining Assange the sanctuary he set out for, it has also resulted in a stalemate between British police—who have an arrest warrant and a court order to extradite Assange to Sweden for questioning on sexual assault allegations—and what is probably the oldest of all international legal principles: diplomatic immunity.

While we may have some doubts about the thought process that would lead a man to take such drastic measures to avoid a possible trial, there is certainly no doubt about the legality of his current situation. He can not be removed by force from the premises of the embassy, period! This is enshrined in every form of international treaty (The Vienna Declaration, 1961) doctrine, case law (The Iran Hostage crisis) and international customary law (i.e. diplomatic immunity) you can name. No domestic law invoked by the British authorities in violating this sacrosanct legal norm, would make one bit of difference.

Of course, this won’t stop them from trying. The British government is already, citing the obscure Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act (1987) which it claims give it the right to enter the premises of the embassy if the state in question “ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post.” The only problem is that such as law goes against every rule in the international legal rule book and isn’t recognized by any international court, anywhere.

Assange is still very much painted into a corner, though. He can do one of two things: stay put in the embassy and pray that the Brits are bluffing (more than likely) about the invasion threats. Or he can attempt some sort of daring cinematic escape to Ecuador (less likely, but a hell of a lot more fun!).

Either way, Britain should respect the age old principle of asylum and grant Assange safe passage to Ecuador, instead of listening to those in the U.S. (and Tom Flanagan in Canada) who view him as some sort of international terrorist mastermind. It’s hard not to conclude that the Brits’ hard line stance in this case is due, in part, to being pressured by the Americans, who would sorely like to get their hands on Assange for his part in any number of leaks that have embarrassed the U.S. government over the years. It also looks an awful lot like a double standard that would be almost unimaginable if this were a case involving one of the more important embassies in London (e.g. Canada’s) harbouring any dissident other than Assange.

*Photo from Democracy Now! (Under a Creative Commons license.)
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