magnify
Home Archive for category "Diplomatic Asylum"

Ecuador Turns Off Julian Assange’s Internet Access

Published on October 19, 2016        Author: 

The world is an awful, terrible place. But sometimes it gives us a nugget so glorious that it really has to be savoured and appreciated. One such nugget is today’s news item that Ecuador had made a ‘sovereign decision’ to restrict the Internet access of Julian Assange, for many years a guest in its London embassy (Guardian and BBC reports here; our previous coverage of various legal issues regarding Assange here). Note the reason Ecuador gave for restricting Assange’s Internet access (which I imagine they are paying for, in any event): respect for the principle of non-intervention. Here’s the Ecuadorian government’s official communique (via Twitter):

In recent weeks, WikiLeaks has published a wealth of documents, impacting on the U.S. election campaign. This decision was taken exclusively by that organization.

The Government of Ecuador respects the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states. It does not interfere in external electoral processes, nor does it favor any particular candidate.

Accordingly, Ecuador has exercised its sovereign right to temporarily restrict access to some of its private communications network within its Embassy in the United Kingdom. This temporary restriction does not prevent the WikiLeaks organization from carrying out its journalistic activities.

Just consider, for a moment, how Assange, as a champion of the freedom of speech on the Internet, has found himself in cahoots with (likely) Russia – by any measure not the freest of societies – in actively influencing the forthcoming American elections, and how he is maintaining this activity from UK sovereign soil, protected by Ecuador’s unlawful grant of asylum. And then ponder the delicious irony of a state like Ecuador which, on the one hand, violated the principle of non-intervention vis-a-vis the UK by granting asylum to a fugitive from criminal justice, only to then invoke that very same principle vis-a-vis the United States in order to effectively limit Assange’s freedom of expression. Remarkable, isn’t it?

On a purely legal level, it is particularly noteworthy that a state has essentially expressed its opinio juris to the effect that the customary principle of non-intervention requires it to prevent a private actor operating from a place within its jurisdiction from interfering with the electoral process of a third state by leaking the content of a campaign official’s private emails. I, at least, am not aware that the principle of non-intervention has ever been invoked by an (arguably) intervening state against itself in this particular way, and indeed as part of justifying the interference with an individual’s human rights. But this is an excellent example of how an old legal principle can keep evolving in different circumstances.

Print Friendly
 

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention decision on Assange: ‘ridiculous’ or ‘justifiable’?

Published on February 9, 2016        Author: 

The UN WGAD Assange decision has been met with general ridicule from British officials, legal academics and the press. This piece seeks to bring some balance to the coverage on this decision, which consistently fails to outline the arguments which persuaded the Working Group.

The central argument of Assange’s lawyers’ proceeds on the basis that his confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy ‘cannot … be characterized as volitional’ (para 13). He is not free to leave, because he is protecting himself from the violation of other human rights: ‘the only way for Mr. Assange to enjoy his right to asylum was to be in detention’ (para 11). If Assange were to leave he would be arrested in the UK and extradited pursuant to a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by Sweden. Consequently, he would expose himself to the risk of a ‘well founded fear of persecution’ were he to be extradited to the US from Sweden (para 12). In the words of Assange’s lawyers:

The source submits that Mr. Assange was deprived of his liberty against his will and his liberty had been severely restricted, against his volition. An individual cannot be compelled to renounce an inalienable right, nor can they be required to expose themselves to the risk of significant harm. Mr. Assange’s exit from the Ecuadorian Embassy would require him to renounce his right to asylum and expose himself to the very persecution and risk of physical and mental mistreatment that his grant of asylum was intended to address. His continued presence in the Embassy cannot, therefore, be characterised as ‘volitional’ (para 13).

Assange’s lawyers moves on to the failure of the Swedish authorities to pursue their investigation through less restrictive means. Simply put, the Swedish authorities have ‘not established a prima facie case’ and have refused ‘unreasonably and disproportionately’ to ‘question him through alternative means offered under the process of mutual assistance’ (para 13). Furthermore, they argue that Assange has been deprived of the opportunity to know the case against him, to provide a statement regarding the charges against him, and thus to defend himself against the charges. This combination of factors thus also bears upon the principle of audi alterum partem and the presumption of innocence. The cumulative result of all of these conditions, and the failure to guarantee non-refoulement to the US, have resulted in a situation in which, on Assange’s argument, he has in effect been arbitrarily detained. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly
 

Julian Assange and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Published on February 5, 2016        Author: 

We should have known. Once Julian Assange publically stated that he would surrender to the UK authorities if the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found against him, it was obvious that the Working Group had done no such thing. And its opinion was released today, to widespread derision among the legal community (at least as expressed by my twitter feed).

To get the obvious issues out of the way: the Working Group is a UN body but it is not, and does not represent, ‘the United Nations’. Instead, it is one of the ‘thematic special procedures’ of the UN Human Rights Council, which is itself a political body established by and reporting to the UN General Assembly. The Working Group was originally established by the Commission on Human Rights, the Human Rights Council’s predecessor, and had its mandate renewed, most recently by the Human Rights Council in 2013. In contrast to the HRC, however, the Working Group is a body of independent experts serving in their individual capacities. It presently has five members: from South Korea, Mexico, Benin, Australia and the Ukraine.

The Working Group is tasked with investigating cases of deprivation of liberty imposed arbitrarily, with reference to the relevant international standards set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as to the relevant international instruments accepted by the States concerned. It can consider individual communications and, having done so, render opinions as to whether an arbitrary detention has or has not been established and make recommendations to the State concerned.

What all this means is that the Working Group cannot issue binding decisions (contrary to what Julian Assange’s legal team are arguing), hence their description as ‘opinions’. Nor can it provide authoritative interpretations of any human rights treaty (having not been granted that role by the parties to any such treaty). The most that can be said is that States are under a duty to take ‘due consideration’ to Working Group’s recommendations, which is a rather weak obligation.

Moving from the general to the particular, the Working Group gave its opinion in response to a communication made on behalf of Julian Assange. It will be recalled that Mr Assange has been in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 19 June 2012, when he skipped bail following the decision of the UK Supreme Court on 30 May 2012 to permit his extradition to Sweden under a European Arrest Warrant. The communication was made on 16 September 2014 and was passed on to the Governments of Sweden and the United Kingdom, which replied, respectively, on 3 and 13 November 2014. The opinion was adopted on 4 December 2015, over a year later, and was published on 5 February 2016, which does not indicate an enormous sense of urgency. Following the Working Group’s rules, one of the members of the Working Group recused herself from this deliberations as she shared the same nationality as Mr Assange. Another, Mr Vladimir Tochilovsky, dissented and produced a short individual dissenting opinion. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly
 

The Political Offense Exception: Punishing Whistleblowers Abroad

Published on November 14, 2013        Author: 

Mark KielsgardDr. Mark D. Kielsgard, is an Assistant Professor of Law at City University of Hong Kong.

 

 

On June 14, 2013, the U.S. lodged a criminal complaint against Edward Snowden for theft of government property and espionage after he had fled the country. Snowden is seen by many as a hero and modern whistleblower. Protecting whistleblowers has become increasingly important as the U.S. has been stepping-up use of the Espionage Act of 1917 to prosecute suspected whistleblowers (Obama’s Abuse of the Espionage Act is Modern-day McCarthyism, The Guardian, Aug. 6, 2013). Government employees, contractors and journalists have voiced concern over reporting misconduct for fear of government reprisals. In light of recent developments in the U.S. and the general temptation of all governments to cut corners in the post-911 era, extradition protection for whistleblowers who seek protection abroad is essential to protect political activism and foster political change. This essay will consider the continued relevance of the political offense exception common to most extradition treaties and discuss its implications for modern whistleblowers abroad.

The U.S. seems to provide fugitives with among the lowest threshold of protection while many other states have evolved their standards. This is largely due to the antiquated interpretation of the traditional “incidence” test recognized for “relative political offenses” under U.S. law. As virtually no political offense can qualify as a “pure political offense,” a “relative political offense” analysis is indispensible. By recognizing a lower threshold of protection for “relative political offenses,” U.S. law has effectively rendered this exception meaningless.

The Political Offense Exception

The political offense exception dates back to at least the 19th century and has several justifications. It is premised on the belief that individuals have a right to resort to political activism to foster political change and manifests the requirement of fairness that individuals should not be returned to countries where they may be subjected to unfair trials and punishments because of their political opinions. Additionally, it complies with the right of self-determination, that foreign governments should not intervene in the internal political struggles of other nations. This exception is commonly included in extradition treaties and is provided in the United Nations Model Treaty on Extradition (G.A. Res. 45/116) at article 3(a). Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly
 
Tags:

The Sheer Awfulness of Julian Assange

Published on December 1, 2012        Author: 

Julian Assange gave an interview to the BBC yesterday – available here – which I commend to readers; it’s only 10 minutes long. Assange has of course had a long history of Messianic self-victimization and refusing to submit to legal process in Sweden and the UK on charges of sexual assault. I won’t even go into the momentous irony of a supposed champion for the freedom of speech taking refuge in the embassy of a country whose regime is generally not regarded as being very friendly to said freedom, or indeed of that country criticising the UK as imperialist whilst simultaneously violating the UK’s sovereignty by unlawfully harbouring a fugitive from justice. But while this BBC interview is a continuation of a long tradition on his part, I must say that until I had watched it I had not realized just how absolutely awful and cringe-worthy Assange is as a human being – he was not simply uncivil to the unfortunate BBC journalist interviewing him (herself admittedly not say an Edward R. Murrow), but was a first rate, frothing at the mouth kind of bully. His frequently completely uncritical supporters may want to take note.

My favourite moment in the interview comes at about 3:35 when he says, apparently as conclusive evidence that the UK Supreme Court decision dismissing his appeal against extradition to Sweden was completely wrong, that ‘in two academic articles [holding up two fingers] the Cambridge International Law Journal has condemned the findings of the Supreme Court.’ He is in fact referring to these two blog posts by Tiina Pajuste and Cameron Miles (both of which I recommend, who are rightly critical of the Court’s application of Art. 31(3)(b) VCLT) on the website of the Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law (on whose academic review board I happily sit, in the spirit of full disclosure). Now how adorable is that? Abscoding from the law on the pretext that the decision of the highest court in the land was criticized in a blog post or two. I see much potential here!

(For our previous coverage of the Assange saga and the analysis of the pertinent legal issues readers can click on ‘Diplomatic Asylum’ in the categories tab below).

Print Friendly
 
Tags:

Diplomatic Asylum for Julian Assange?

Published on September 11, 2012        Author: 

Professor Kai Ambos is Chair of Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Comparative Law and International Criminal Law at the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany (since May 2003) and Judge at the Provincial Court (Landgericht) of Lower Saxony in Göttingen

Julian Assange’s medal-worthy self-staging as a militant for worldwide freedom of opinion has diverted attention away from the fact that the dispute over his extradition has nothing to do with Wikileaks, but rather with the enforcement of a European arrest warrant from November 2010. In this arrest warrant Assange is charged with rape, sexual harassment and unlawful coercion against two Swedish women in Sweden. According to the fundamental principle of mutual recognition as basis of the European arrest warrant, such a warrant is to be enforced by the executing member state (in this case Great Britain) without any further ado. The fact that Assange was however able to go through three  tiers of the English judicial system – with the proceedings leading up to the Supreme Court Decision of 30 May 2012 lasting one and a half years – can be explained, among other things, by the fact that the implementation of the European arrest warrant within the member states varies greatly.

Against this background – exhaustion of the local legal remedies – Assange’s escape into the Ecuadorian embassy on 19 June 2012 is to be seen as the continuation of his fight with political means. Hence, it is not very surprising that in the detailed explanation given by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (on 16 August 2012 ) for the granting of diplomatic asylum no mention is made of the actual accusations against Assange (see Comunicado No. 042). Instead, President Rafael Correa on 18 August 2012 in his state-owned TV program declared that the conduct Assange is accused of was not even punishable in Latin America (see Enlace Ciudadano No. 285). If this were to be true (which is fortunately not the case, see Art. 505 et seq. of Ecuador’s own Criminal Code), it would catapult the continent back to the unbridled machismo era. In any case, Ecuador granted Assange diplomatic asylum because it considered that there was an imminent threat of him being further deported to the United States where he would be politically persecuted and cruelly treated (see Comunicado No. 042).

However, Ecuador’s decision to grant diplomatic asylum to Julian Assange is flawed as a matter of law. Nonetheless, its embassy in London remains inviolable. The Ecuadorian argument does not stand up in the light of sober legal analysis as it misreads the fundamental structure of (European) law of extradition and it employs a legal concept – “diplomatic asylum” -that is not universally recognized in international law (see this EJIL:Talk! post ). An automatic further extradition to a third state is neither possible in general extradition law nor in the European arrest warrant system. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly
 

The Julian Assange Affair: May the UK Terminate the Diplomatic Status of Ecuador’s Embassy? UPDATED

Published on August 17, 2012        Author: 

Ecuador has announced that it is granting asylum to Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, who has taken refuge in the Ecuardor’s embassy in London. Assange sought refuge in the Embassy after the UK Supreme Court ruled a few weeks ago that he may be extradited to Sweden where he is wanted for trial on allegation of committing sexual offences. In this dispute there are some points in the UK’s favour. It is fairly clear that Assange is not covered by Refugee Convention and is therefore not entitled to asylum as a matter of international law. That Convention does not apply to persons in respect of which there are serious reasons to believe they have committed a serious non-political crime (Art. 1(F)(ii)). Furthermore, as Matthew Happold pointed out in a previous post, general international law does not provide for diplomatic asylum. Thus, States are not required to grant safe passage out of their territory to those who seek asylum in diplomatic premises within their territory (unless there is a specific treaty which provides for such an obligation, which there is not in this case).

However, the UK also faces a number of legal difficulties. The main challenge it faces is that international law (in the form of Art. 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations) provides that the premises of a diplomatic mission are inviolable and agents of a State may not enter them to perform law enforcement (or other) functions without the consent of the head of the diplomatic mission. So UK agents may not enter into the Ecuadorian Embassy to arrest Assange. The question raised is whether this inviolability is absolute and whether there are any ways in which the UK could get hold of Assange, without violating international law. In particular, may the UK unilaterally terminate the diplomatic status of Ecuador’s embassy by withdrawing its consent for that building to be regarded as diplomatic premises? If the UK did withdraw that consent, would the building then cease to be inviolable such that UK agents could go in to it?

Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly
 

Julian Assange and Diplomatic Asylum

Published on June 24, 2012        Author: 

Matthew Happold is Professor of Public International Law at the University of Luxembourg and an associate tenant at 3 Hare Court, London .

In taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Julian Assange joins a long list of individuals who have sought asylum in foreign embassies.  Recent examples include Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun in the US consulate in Chengdu, and blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng in the US embassy in Beijing.  However, although embassy premises are legally inviolable, general international law does not recognise a right of diplomatic asylum.  Even if Ecuador does grant Assange asylum, the UK will not be obliged to grant him safe passage out of the country.

In 1949, Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre, leader of the Peruvian APRA movement, sought refuge in the Colombian embassy in Lima.  The dispute between Colombia and Peru as to whether he could be granted diplomatic asylum went twice to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. In its judgment in the Asylum Case, the Court ruled that no general rule in international law existed permitting States to grant diplomatic asylum; a legal basis had to be established in each particular case.  Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly