By now, you have heard that Ecuador has granted political asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Assange is wanted in Sweden on charges of sexual assault, and he had exhausted all of his appeals against extradition. Facing arrest and extradition to Sweden (where he believes he may face further extradition to the USA for the Wikileaks disclosures) Assange fled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
This morning, Ecuadorian authorities decided to grant him political asylum. Now, there is an uneasy stand-off between brewing between British authorities and Ecuador. The UK has made it clear that it still intends to arrest and extradite Assange. To that end, one option they have floated is to revoke the status of Ecuador’s embassy in the UK and storm the place to arrest Assange.
This would be a terrible mistake. The inviolability of foreign embassies is one of the oldest and most sacrosanct principals of international law. This is not something that the UK should undermine. If a liberal democracy like the UK feels its not bound by the strictures of the Vienna Convention, what is stopping other countries with lesser commitments to the rule of law from following its lead?
You may agree or disagree with Julian Assange, but that is largely besides the point. Liberal democracies like the UK have a special responsibility to uphold the basic tenants of international law. Should British authorities find pretext to revoke the status of Ecuador’s embassy, they would chip away at longstanding diplomatic protocol which could have lasting negative consequences around the world.
Powerful countries violating basic international law like the Vienna Convention when it suits them is a recipe for anarchy in international relations. Let’s hope the British authorities chose a more prudent path.