Graphic designed by Somerset Bean

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange was granted diplomatic asylum by Ecuador yesterday. In the hours preceding the announced decision, the British government issued a letter that contained a threat against the Ecuador embassy in London, where Assange has been holed-up for nearly two months. The government indicated it might be willing to invoke a law and revoke the diplomatic immunity of the embassy so it could enter the premise and arrest Assange.

The UK has denied that it made any sort of threat. But, today, the Organization of American States (OAS) met and voted on a resolution to convene the Foreign Ministers of all OAS member countries to respond to this threat in manner that defended the “inviolability” of diplomatic premises. The resolution passed over the objections of Canada and the United States.

Here are some developments in the diplomatic standoff or insights into the situation worth reading:

ALBA condemns the British government’s threat against the Ecuador embassy in London

The Bolivarian Alliance for the People of our Americas (ALBA) released a statement soundly rejecting threats by the United Kingdom “against the integrity of the Embassy of the Republic of Ecuador in London, and against the sovereign right of Ecuador to manage their asylum policy.” It condemned the willingness of the country to “violate the Vienna Convention on the Privileges and Immunities” and ignore “international obligations.” ALBA characterized it as another “belligerent stance in addition to the treatment of the UK government on the case of the Falkland Islands and shows their lack of concern of relations with Latin America and the Caribbean,” and indicated a “special meeting of foreign ministers” was to be held.

How much of a mistake was UK’s threat against Ecuador? 

A former British ambassador, Oliver Miles, calls it a “big mistake.” He also laughs at the idea that UK did not threaten the country, as it has claimed: “If I tell you, ‘I’m not threatening you but I DO have a very large stick here,’ it’s a question of semantics.” A British former ambassador to Russia said they had “slightly overreached.” Any attempt to get Assange would likely violate a clear principle of international law.

Nikolas Kozloff wrote about the threat and said, “Merely hinting that it would resort to force and ‘go rogue’ in an effort to apprehend Assange, Britain has demonstrated its contempt for international law and diplomacy.” He described a prior example in history when an embassy’s diplomatic immunity was violated. Guatemala was “engulfed” in violence in the early 1980s and Indians entered the Spanish embassy. Security forces in Guatemala threw incendiary devices at the embassy and Molotov cocktails the Indians had carried inside went off killing the peasants. He does not suggest this would happen but wonders if it would consider some kind of force in order to get Assange to leave the embassy.

Ecuador embassy in London complains of police intimidation 

From The Guardian, a “senior Ecuadorean diplomatic source” reported the police presence had “risen from two or three to around 50, with officers on the embassy’s fire escape and at every window.” The source described this as “‘an absolutely intimidating and unprecedented use of police’ designed to show the British government’s desire to ‘go in with a strong hand.’” But, the British Foreign Office is still willing to talk with Ecuador about their decision. The source reiterated to The Guardian: “Ecuador has been proposing that we would be prepared to accept an undertaking from the UK and Sweden that, once Julian Assange has faced the Swedish investigation, he will not be extradited to a third country: specifically the US. That might be a way out of it and Ecuador has always said it does not want to interfere with the Swedish judicial process.”

President of Ecuador’s office puts out press release celebrating history of helping refugees

Part of Ecuador’s decision included a short description of the country’s history of helping asylum seekers. The President of the Republic of Ecuador has now chosen to emphasize some more aspects of this history. For example, in the 1970s, when there was a conflict between the Dominican Republic and Brazil, Ecuador’s embassy in Santo Domingo helped citizens fleeing the conflict. When Papa Doc Duvalier ruled Haiti, Ecuador sought to help those seeking asylum. They even had to involve Brazil so they could get refugees out of the country. Granting asylum to Assange is part of upholding human rights and being more inclusive.

CNN has a “primer” on diplomatic asylum 

One key part is worth attention because it includes content suggesting there is no right to diplomatic asylum. The article states, “The prevailing view that diplomatic asylum is not part of accepted international law was settled in a case between Peru and Colombia before the International Court of Justice in 1950.” It adds, “Victor de la Haya, a Peruvian, led an unsuccessful rebellion in Peru and was wanted by authorities there. He hid in the Colombian embassy in Lima and asked for, and received asylum from Colombia. Peru, however, refused to grant safe passage.” The court ruled unless treaties or agreements were in place between countries diplomatic asylum did not have to be recognized.

International Court of Justice is likely to hear case involving safe passage to Ecuador

Baltasar Garzon, former Spanish judge and member of Assange’s defense, believes the UK is “legally required to allow Assange to leave.” The UK, Garzon contends, has “diplomatic obligations of the refugee convention,” which it must follow. Otherwise, the case will go to the International Court of Justice.

Why did Ecuador grant asylum? 

Various viewpoints: (1) China, because, according to Martin Hutchinson, “Ecuador’s oil exports, mineral exploration and loan funding are increasingly dominated” by the world power. This gives it cover to make such a decision. As much as US businesses might like to retaliate, “Of the $1.7 billion in Ecuadorean exports to the United States in 2011, $1.6 billion represented internationally traded oil. So Ecuador’s help for Assange brings little chance of significant economic retaliation from Washington.” (2) Renard Sexton of The Guardian argues the upcoming election in Ecuador is a key factor because Correa has redirected ”the nation’s focus from the presidential campaign to a riveting legal and diplomatic affair of international significance” and, since neither of those quite touch upon how this is Ecuador asserting its sovereignty (3) “The Geopolitics of Asylum” by Tom Hayden at The Nation.

Ecuador President Rafael Correa explains decision to grant asylum in radio interview

The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, said in a radio interview that he was not in agreement with everything that Assange has done but “does that mean he deserves the death penalty, life in prison, to be extradited to a third country. Please! Where is the proportionality between the crime and the punishment? Where is due process?” He also stated, “The main reason why Julian Assange was given diplomatic asylum was because his extradition to a third country was not guaranteed, in no way was it done to interrupt the investigations of Swedish justice over an alleged crime. In no way.”

State Department: US does not recognize “diplomatic asylum” 

“The United States is not a party to the 1954 OAS Convention on Diplomatic Asylum and does not recognize the concept of diplomatic asylum as a matter of international law,” the State Department declared in a statement. “We believe this is a bilateral issue between Ecuador and the United Kingdom and that the OAS has no role to play in this matter.” First off, no one should be able to say with a straight face this is a “bilateral issue” because Sweden wants to extradite him. The UK will make no negotiated decision without consulting Sweden. It will not pledge to Ecuador that it has received assurances from Sweden Assange will not be extradited to the US without meeting with Swedish officials first. So, the US should at least call it a trilateral issue.

However, it is only a trilateral issue if the US does not care whether he ends up in Sweden or Ecuador. It is only something which they are not involved in if it doesn’t matter whether it is easy to extradite him for trial over crimes, such as conspiracy to commit espionage, in the near future. Since The Age published details from Australian cables today showing the US has talked to diplomatic officials about extraditing Assange and that is still being pursued, it is clear sexual allegations in Sweden is just a prelude to a much more significant chain of events that are likely to be set in motion in 2014 or 2015, after it has convicted Pfc. Bradley Manning and the Justice Department has some leverage to issue indictments for WikiLeaks founders, managers and staffers.

And finally…

“Democracy Now!” had an excellent program this morning

Both Daniel Ellsberg, known for releasing the Pentagon Papers, and Jennifer Robinson, a lawyer for WikiLeaks, appeared. Robinson discussed the unprecedented threat made by the UK against the Ecuador embassy and what it would mean if the embassy was actually raided. Ellsberg congratulated Ecuador on its decision to grant Assange asylum.