Thursday Follies: Assange, Ecudaor and the UK

So much for another sleepy Thurday in August.

I’m not going to spend any time in this post villifying or valorizing the man in question. For me, the issue today is a simple one: does Ecuador’s granting of asylum to Assange trump Sweden’s extradition request to the UK government? I’m not an attorney but I’m thinking the answer is “no”, but the situation is complicated since Sweden has never charged Assange with a crime. Ecuador’s foreign minister made clear to the New York Times what the current state of play is:

.Mr. Patiño said he hoped Britain would permit Mr. Assange to leave the embassy in London for Ecuador — a request Britain has rejected, saying it has a legal obligation to extradite Mr. Assange to Sweden, where is wanted to face questioning about allegations of sexual misbehavior.

The minister said his government had taken the decision after the authorities in Britain, Sweden and the United States had refused to give guarantees that, if Mr. Assange were extradited to Sweden, he would not then be sent on to America to face other charges.

There is not a word in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations about local law trumping a signatory’s obligations under the Convention (i.e., there is nothing in the Convention stating that a host government can storm into a diplomatic mission it still recognizes for the purpose of taking custody of someone in violation of the host nation’s laws). What the UK government could do under the Convention is rescind the Ecudorian mission’s diplomatic status, which now appears to be the threat they’ve made in writing, if existing press reports are accurate:

On Wednesday, Mr. Patiño, the foreign minister, said that the British authorities had threatened to barge into the country’s embassy in London if officials did not hand over Mr. Assange. “Today we have received from the United Kingdom an explicit threat in writing that they could assault our embassy in London if Ecuador does not hand over Julian Assange,” Mr. Patiño said at a news conference in Quito, adding defiantly, “We are not a British colony.”

My two-cents: if UK authorities storm the embassay of another United Nations member that has granted political asylum to a man claiming to fear for his freedom and life–and given recent events, he has good reason to–it will send a clear message to every dictatorship in the world that they too can ignore international law to get at political dissidents hiding in foreign embassies on their soil.

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