Julian Assange: Political Refugee
by Stephen Lendman
International law protects refugees and asylum seekers.
Article I of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees calls them:
"A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country."
Post-WW II, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established to help them.
To gain legal protection, they must:
• be outside their country of origin;
• fear persecution;
• be harmed or fear harm by their government or others;
• fear persecution for at least one of the above cited reasons; and
• pose no danger to others.
Immihelp.com calls asylum and refugee status "closely related." They differ "only in the place where a person asks for asylum status."
Refugee status is asked for outside countries of origin. "However, all people who are granted asylum status must meet the definition of a refugee."
Assange is entitled to political refugee rights. Britain won't grant them.
Ecuador granted him political asylum. His fears are well-founded. If Britain extradites him to Sweden, he'll be sent to America. He'll be unjustly prosecuted for whistleblowing. He'll face many years in prison or capital punishment.
An earlier New York Times report said a secret grand jury convened. At issue is charging Assange with espionage under the 1917 Espionage Act.
Doing so contradicts the law's intent. It doesn't deter Justice Department officials from using it. It passed shortly after America's entry into WW I. Over time it's been amended numerous times.
Originally it prohibited interfering with US military operations, supporting the nation's enemies, promoting insubordination in the ranks, or obstructing military recruitment.
In 1921, its most controversial provisions were repealed. In 2010, Bradley Manning was charged under the Act. Technically its under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). It includes parts of the US Code.
Allegedly a sealed Assange indictment is ready to be made public whenever Washington wishes to do so. Espionage Act violations will be charged.
America twists legal meanings to serve its interests. Bogus charges facilitate hanging innocent victims out to dry. Headlines portray Assange as public enemy number one. He won't get a moment's peace.
Asylum isn't freedom. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said London won't grant safe passage. Britain's Foreign Office said:
"We are determined to carry out our legal obligation to see Julian Assange extradited to Sweden."
"We will not allow Mr. Assange safe passage out of the UK, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so. The UK does not accept the principle of diplomatic asylum."
"It is far from a universally accepted concept: the United Kingdom is not a party to any legal instruments, which require us to recognize the grant of diplomatic asylum by a foreign embassy in this country."
Hague added in part:
"We are disappointed by the statement by Ecuador’s Foreign Minister today that Ecuador has offered political asylum to Julian Assange."
"Under our law, with Mr. Assange having exhausted all options of appeal, the British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden."
"We must carry out that obligation and of course we fully intend to do so. The Ecuadorian Government's decision this afternoon does not change that in any way."
"Nor does it change the current circumstances in any way. We remain committed to a diplomatic solution that allows us to carry out our obligations as a nation under the Extradition Act."
"The UK does not accept the principle of diplomatic asylum."
Hague omitted saying Britain spurns international law principles repeatedly. Like America, other NATO nations, and Israel, it operates extrajudicially.
On August 19, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) will hold an extraordinary meeting in Ecuador. Assange's situation will be discussed.
Britain and Ecuador are at impasse. Resolution may not come soon. Assange remains holed up in Ecuador's London embassy. WikiLeaks posted his statement on its Twitter page, saying:
"It was not Britain or my home country, Australia, that stood up to protect me from prosecution, but a courageous, independent Latin American nation."
At issue is how to get there safely. More on that below.
Peru holds UNASUR's rotating presidency. A statement released on its foreign ministry website says:
"The Foreign Ministry of Peru lets public opinion know that, in concordance with the statutory responsibilities of the temporary presidency of UNASUR, at the behest of the Republic of Ecuador and after consulting member states, an extraordinary meeting of the Counsel of Foreign Ministers of the Union has been convened on Sunday August 19 in the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador."
"The meeting has been requested with the intention of considering the situation raised at the embassy of Ecuador in the United Kingdom."
On August 24, Organization of American States (OAS) voted to meet in Washington. At issue is discussing Ecuador's granting Assange asylum. Twenty-three members voted in favor of the meeting. America, Canada, and Trinidad and Tobago opposed the resolution. Five nations abstained. Another three were absent.
OAS secretary general Jose Miguel Insulza said convening isn't about Assange per se. It's to discuss "the problem posed by the threat or warning made to Ecuador by the possibility of an intervention into its embassy in London."
"The issue that concerns us is the inviolability of diplomatic missions of all members of this organization, something that is of interest to all of us."
What OAS will accomplish is doubtful. It largely defers to US interests. Its history is long and shameful. Chartered to "promote democratic institutions," it defiled them for decades.
Previous leaders include a rogue's gallery of regional despots. They include father and son Duvalier in Haiti, fascist Rios Montt in Guatemala, Pinochet in Chile, an array of Mexican despots, Fujimori and others like him in Peru, Somoza in Nicaragua, Batista in Cuba, and other death squad rulers in Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Honduras, El Salvador and elsewhere in the region.
Instead of combatting terrorism, they practiced it. In countries like Haiti, Honduras and Colombia little changed. Whether or not they'll support Ecuador remains unclear. Perhaps so if they're worried about their own security.
Assange saw his native Australia spurn him when he's most in need. Instead of condemning UK bullying and refusal to grant safe passage, Prime Minister Julia Gillard cynically claimed she can't help.
It's none of Australia's business, she suggested. All nations are obligated to protect their citizens. International law requires it. Core tenets include the right to life and humane treatment. It holds abroad as well at home. Consular support is responsible when domestic help isn't available.
In 2010, Gillard called releasing diplomatic cables "grossly irresponsible" and "illegal." No matter that state secrets weren't revealed. Information at most was embarrassing, not harmful. Australia supports Washington's imperium. It's complicit with Obama officials intent to prosecute and imprison Assange.
On August 17, the UK Telegraph headlined "WikiLeaks: Julian Assange will take Britain to the 'World Court,' " saying:
In 1998, Baltasar Garzon indicted Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. He now represents Assange. He's a political refugee, he said. Ecuador granted him asylum status. Britain is obligated to honor it.
"They have to comply with diplomatic and legal obligations under the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and respect the sovereignty of a country that has granted asylum."
"If Britain doesn't comply with its obligations, we will go before International Court of Justice to demand that Britain complies with its obligations because there is a person who runs the risk of being persecuted politically."
Michael Ratner is president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He provides Assange legal advice. He denounced Britain, saying:
"They overstepped, looked like bullies, and made (things) into a big-power versus small power conflict."
Britain should "back off." So should America. Both countries should obey international law and respect Assange's status. "He has a legal right to asylum under the refugee convention."
"Under the UN declarations, there cannot be any adverse consequences for countries granting asylum. It’s considered a humanitarian act."
British officials act like "bullies" for Washington.
On August 16, British MP George Galloway slammed his government for supporting Washington's intent to crucify Assange. He called Sweden's bogus sex charges cover to ship him to America. He hit hard explaining:
"Is there anyone out there that thinks that Britain is doing this, would do that because of charges of sexual misconduct in Sweden? Is there anybody out there really thinks that?"
"Or is it more likely that Britain has done this and will perhaps do the rest in the service of the United States of America, which is salivating at the possibility of getting their hands on the man who with WikiLeaks embarrassed American and British imperialism in front of the whole world?"
On June 20, a Washington Post editorial headlined "Asylum for Julian Assange?" saying:
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa is "a small-time South American autocrat." Chavez "has been his political mentor." He boosted his political influence by granting Assange an interview. He hosted a popular Russia Today program.
A litany of canards followed. The Post made spurious anti-Correa accusations. It dismissively ignored likely US extradition, espionage charges and imprisonment. Guilt or innocence doesn't matter.
It acted like Obama's spokesman. It said US-Ecuadorian trade relations may suffer. "If Mr. Correa seeks to appoint himself America's chief Latin American enemy and Julian Assange's protector….it's not hard to imagine the outcome."
It's simple knowing which side the Post favors. It consistently supports US imperial interests. It's firm against whatever compromises them. It's comfortable about policies harming others. It cheerleads America's war machine. So do other Western media scoundrels.
A Final Comment
On August 16, the London Guardian published ways Assange might leave Britain freely. They range from diplomatic status to smuggling him out. Ideas discussed include:
(1) Giving Assange a diplomatic passport. They facilitate travel but don't confer immunity.
(2) Granting him diplomatic status. Doing so immunizes him from prosecution. Article 29 of the Vienna Convention states:
"The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. The receiving state shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom or dignity."
At the same time, nations are obligated to respect each other's laws. According to former UK Foreign Office lawyer Joanne Foakes:
"In principle, a state can freely appoint anyone as a member of its mission, apart from its head of mission."
"But if they were to seek to do so now, it would be an obvious device to evade the laws of the receiving state, the UK. In these circumstances the UK may feel justified in repudiating such an appointment."
(3) Diplomatic vehicles can't be searched. Provide one for transport to London's international airport. At issue is getting on, off, onboard an aircraft, safely out of British airspace, and not intercepted by US warplanes en route to Ecuador.
(4) Smuggle him out or use a crate, bag or other container. The Vienna Convention says "diplomatic bag(s) shall not be opened or detained." They can be scanned or subjected to thermal imaging. Body heat would reveal something live. Britain might demand to know what.
Other alternatives include diplomacy, pro-Assange world opinion, other nations and British MPs speaking out on his behalf, perhaps a favorable World Court decision, UK embarrassment, or maybe after months of standoff its government deciding it's not worth the fuss, bother, or row.
For now, Assange remains in limbo. Determined Ecuadorean ingenuity and commitment are needed to save him.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled "How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War"
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.