America’s Vassal Acts Decisively and Illegally 437


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I returned to the UK today to be astonished by private confirmation from within the FCO that the UK government has indeed decided – after immense pressure from the Obama administration – to enter the Ecuadorean Embassy and seize Julian Assange.

This will be, beyond any argument, a blatant breach of the Vienna Convention of 1961, to which the UK is one of the original parties and which encodes the centuries – arguably millennia – of practice which have enabled diplomatic relations to function. The Vienna Convention is the most subscribed single international treaty in the world.

The provisions of the Vienna Convention on the status of diplomatic premises are expressed in deliberately absolute terms. There is no modification or qualification elsewhere in the treaty.

Article 22

1.The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter
them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.
2.The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises
of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the
mission or impairment of its dignity.
3.The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of
transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.

Not even the Chinese government tried to enter the US Embassy to arrest the Chinese dissident Chen Guangchen. Even during the decades of the Cold War, defectors or dissidents were never seized from each other’s embassies. Murder in Samarkand relates in detail my attempts in the British Embassy to help Uzbek dissidents. This terrible breach of international law will result in British Embassies being subject to raids and harassment worldwide.

The government’s calculation is that, unlike Ecuador, Britain is a strong enough power to deter such intrusions. This is yet another symptom of the “might is right” principle in international relations, in the era of the neo-conservative abandonment of the idea of the rule of international law.

The British Government bases its argument on domestic British legislation. But the domestic legislation of a country cannot counter its obligations in international law, unless it chooses to withdraw from them. If the government does not wish to follow the obligations imposed on it by the Vienna Convention, it has the right to resile from it – which would leave British diplomats with no protection worldwide.

I hope to have more information soon on the threats used by the US administration. William Hague had been supporting the move against the concerted advice of his own officials; Ken Clarke has been opposing the move against the advice of his. I gather the decision to act has been taken in Number 10.

There appears to have been no input of any kind from the Liberal Democrats. That opens a wider question – there appears to be no “liberal” impact now in any question of coalition policy. It is amazing how government salaries and privileges and ministerial limousines are worth far more than any belief to these people. I cannot now conceive how I was a member of that party for over thirty years, deluded into a genuine belief that they had principles.


437 thoughts on “America’s Vassal Acts Decisively and Illegally

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  • Passerby

    Do Australians come under the jurisprudence of HMG in any of her dominions? If yes, then he is screwed due to dual nationality complications arising, never mind accreditation lark. ie the first nationality trumps in the first country, and second nationality is not recognized.

  • Derek

    Reading the Vienna convention I notice Article 27 states

    5. The diplomatic courier, who shall be provided with an official document indicating his status
    and the number of packages constituting the diplomatic bag, shall be protected by the receiving State in
    the performance of his functions. He shall enjoy person inviolability and shall not be liable to any form
    of arrest or detention.

    6. The sending State or the mission may designate diplomatic couriers ad hoc. In such cases the
    provisions of paragraph 5 of this article shall also apply, except that the immunities therein mentioned
    shall cease to apply when such a courier has delivered to the consignee the diplomatic bag in his charge.

    So what is to stop Ecuador designating Assange as a diplomatic courier to get him safely out the country?

  • kashmiri

    @Jon: As far as I know, diplomatic protection is extended to premises as well as to diplomatic staff. Premises are protected on the basis on a suitable agreement between the two governments which itself is based directly on the Vienna Convention (not on any local laws). However, a person avails of diplomatic protection only when he/she is officially accredited by the host government; or, for short-term visits (foreign officials, couriers, etc.), he/she is notified to, and receives green light from, the host government. In short, whenever a foreign citizen enters a country, diplomatic stuatus has to be explicitly requested, and the host government has a full right to deny it (e.g., in case of persona non grata).
    .
    Contrary to common perception, being a diplomat usually places more restrictions on your international travel than if you are an ordinary citizen – exactly because of the need of notifying any international travel.

  • glenn

    Seems like Louise Mensch is joining Sarah Palin – a joke, a quitter, a wannabe, a non-entity whose main asset is that middle aged right-wingers like to drool over them. They run away from the responsibilities they were elected for, and like to bolster a diminishing profile by sending out tough-sounding (but incredibly poorly considered) tweets, demanding that Someone Else do something belligerent, damaging and often (as in this case) illegal.

  • Passerby

    Derek,
    That bit of the Vienna conventions has been once too often violated, starting with US looking for narcotics, and in the process extended to diplomats carrying explosives, and finally ending up in the Doha fiasco of the Russian consular staff getting into fisticuffs because the airport customs staff were intent on opening their diplomatic baggage.
    ,
    Steal Russian Secrets the Easy Way: Beat Up the Ambassador?
    ,
    ,
    Injured Russian diplomat leaves Qatar
    -ttp://en.rian.ru/world/20111210/169619343.html

  • wendy

    it would be wholly wrong to claim that the british neocons need any encouragement to act against international law.
    .
    they simply dont.

  • Gretch

    The Vienna Convention has effect in English law because of the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964. Against this is the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987.

    There is a considered legal opinion on the legal machinations of the Assange/Ecuadorean Embassy issue at the Law & Lawyers Blog.

  • wendy

    lets not forget that this very government changed the law so that alleged israeli war criminals could wander the streets of londen unhindered …
    .
    and wasnt it straw who let pinochet run …

  • wendy

    “I am not ashamed to be British. I am incensed and enraged at being associated in any way with the British Government, though.”
    .
    how times have changed ecuador teaching the uk about human rights and freespeech .. asylum and whistle-blowers
    .
    the uk under the neocon cabals of all 3 main parties have surely joined the darkside ..

  • Conchis

    But Craig, let’s just say for a second that an actual rapist, murderer or other guilty criminal decides that an excellent way to avoid capture is to pop into the nearest embassy of a questionable Central American state and seek political asylum. The Geneva Convention and the principle of inviolability is designed to protect diplomats not rapists. It is only right that Mr Assange should return or be returned to Sweden for questioning, unless it can be proven that the charges are politically motivated – and the existence of 2 alleged victims with good character and plausible stories suggests that the accusations are worthy of investigation. It is Mr Assange’s exploitation of the asylum process that endangers our overseas staff, not the response of the government which, rightly, needs to balance the rights of two alleged victims of rape with the rights of a man who has poked a gorilla with a stick and is complaining that it now wants to kill him.

  • kashmiri

    The only two realistic options I now see for Assange are:
    .
    1. Remain in the Embassy building until the government changes (just a few years to go) – but be mindful Ecuadorial governments change, too. OR,
    .
    2. Get an Ecuador passport (or two copies, just in case), and get driven in an Embassy car – ideally, together with the Ecuadorial ambassador – by Eurotunnel to France and then Switzerland (non-EU but in Schengen). In no point you need to get out of the car when taking a Eurotunnel train – checked personally.
    .
    Hope this helps 😀

  • Vronsky

    “I cannot now conceive how I was a member of that party for over thirty years, deluded into a genuine belief that they had principles.”
    .
    This might seem a parochial point to make, but bear with me. You are now (like me) a member of the SNP. It looks as if the polluted neo-con tides are lapping around our toes there too.
    .
    Item: Absolutely no chance of an inquiry into the conviction of the late (and obviously framed) Abdelbaset al Megrahi. The stuff about ‘compassionate release’ was as much shite as it looked – he was shunted off home to kill his appeal and prevent embarrassment.
    .
    Item: Long-standing opposition to NATO membership is being dropped.
    .
    It isn’t parochial because happening everywhere. As a few above have noted, legality/morality doesn’t matter – they’ll do whatever they want. Washington commands, and we obey. Which (quite inappropriately) reminds me of a nice song:
    .
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEaRiGZBmw0&feature=related

  • nevermind

    Who will oppose the almost permanent surveillance, shutting off roads etc.
    @ Kashmiri Had the same idea, i.e making him a honourable bonafide Ecuadorian and after some time grant him diplomatic courier status. Am I right in saying that this can be done for very specific tasks on a time limited basis?
    The getaway will be complicated and we should hold our best ideas back. The tunnel is a good idea, except when an accident happens, or is planned to happen. Then the police is allowed to interfere with diplomatic status in an emergency, so the road version is not so good unless you are in a more secure diplomatic ‘convoy’.
    .
    There is nothing to stop the Argentinian, Bolivian Honduran and Venezuelan ambassador visiting their Ecuadorian colleague for a meeting, they could travel in convoy to Switzerland and check their bank accounts, 🙂 could they not? who knows, could they arrive by helicopter? if there is diplomatic access to the roof.

  • Nextus

    “But Craig, let’s just say for a second that an actual rapist, murderer or other guilty criminal decides that an excellent way to avoid capture is to pop into the nearest embassy of a questionable Central American state and seek political asylum. The Geneva Convention and the principle of inviolability is designed to protect diplomats not rapists. It is only right that Mr Assange should return or be returned to Sweden for questioning … “
    .
    Are you suggesting that an embassy might willingly shield any random murderer or rapist who walked off the street trying to hide from the cops? The Vienna Convention doesn’t compel them to shield every criminal who turns up looking for a bed. They can exercise their own discretion, of course.
    .
    In any case, such a ludicrously unlikely scenario would in no way grant the host government the right to ignore an inviolable international convention when no actual murderer or rapist is involved, but only a dissident who has been stitched up by a compliant state. (Remember Assange’s alleged actions in Sweden don’t count as rape in UK law.)
    .
    There is plenty of evidence of political motivation. The Swedes have refused all compromises, for example to interview him in the UK or by remote link. It’s only an investigation not a charge. It would normally not be considered worthy of a plane ticket, never mind the risk of provoking an international diplomatic crisis.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    “There is plenty of evidence of political motivation. The Swedes have refused all compromises, for example to interview him in the UK or by remote link. It’s only an investigation not a charge. It would normally not be considered worthy of a plane ticket, never mind the risk of provoking an international diplomatic crisis.” Nextus.
    .
    I agree.
    .
    And, as Geoffrey Robertson, QC, said on BBC Radio 4 at teatime, Sweden has a very bad reputation for ‘rendering’ people to the CIA – he used the acronym, “CIA”, twice, just so there was no doubt. And then, an Ecuadorean came on and said that most of the media in her country is owned by six families. Well, that sounds just like Britain!
    .
    What may happen is this: Sweden will undertake not to allow Assange to be extradited to the USA if he comes back and faces the ‘questioning’ there. Then, once that is over, ‘new’ evidence will come to light which will allow Sweden to extradite him to the USA.
    .
    The Pinochet point is a very powerful one.
    .
    Shameful, disgraceful, sickening.

  • Abe Rene

    Someone in the FCO may have gotten carried away with the Olympic results. Invading Ecuadorean territory will not help Britain’s standing on issues like the Falkland Islands.

  • Fedup

    Conchis,
    What an utter tripe and hollow contention? Despite the fact I care very little for Assange but your “two good people” are indeed so good that they lay on their complaints for months and years. Then deciding to go to the police.
    ,
    Further you seem to be mistaking seeking sanctuary in a church with political asylum in an embassy. In simpler words Assange is being politically persecuted in the “freedom loving” West and he has had to run to third world for asylum and that is the shame of it all, that evidently your emotional outburst does not take any account of.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    “it would be wholly wrong to claim that the British neocons need any encouragement to act against international law.
    .
    they simply dont.” Wendy.
    .
    Key point. As I wrote earlier on the recent ‘anaconda’ thread, they invaded Iraq against international law – after that, the Rubicon dried up.

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