Ecuador has accused the UK of making a “threat” to enter its embassy in London to arrest Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, reports the BBC. There seems to be no clear confirmation from the British government, but a statement that the Foreign Office
can lift the embassy’s diplomatic status to fulfil a “legal obligation” to extradite
Assange. Britain may have the legal means to arrest Assange inside the Ecuaorian embassy – the BBC cites the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987.
The act followed the 1984 Libyan embassy siege, and included an option to remove diplomatic status from premises which are being misused. In the Law Gazette, Carl Islam argued that
[f]or both legal and political reasons the Act is unlikely to be used in a crisis situation, but this cannot be ruled out altogether.
[..] even if the authorities were sure of their facts by taking action they ran the risk that the inviolability of the premises might subsequently be upheld in the courts with the embarrassing result that their action would have been illegal.
There were East Germans who took refuge in West Germany’s permanent mission in East Berlin – East Germany respected the permanent mission’s immunity. Czechoslovakia respected the West German embassy’s immunity when East Germans took refuge there. China respected the U.S. embassy’s immunity when Chen Guangcheng, and, decades earlier, Fang Lizhi and his wife, sought refuge there.
To avoid misunderstandings: this is no Assange-Chen-etc. comparison. This is a comparison on how countries respect or disrespect some basics of international relations. If Assange is reason enough to invade Ecuador’s embassy in London, any other reason will be good enough, too. All it takes will be the the passage of domestic legislation to the liking of the host country’s government.
How “special” does the British government think it is? It is unlikely that there will be fundamental conflicts with Sweden which would even remotely justify this action. Maybe Assange’s supporters are right to suspect that Assange’s final and forced destination, after leaving the embassy, would be America.
» Why Wikileaks can’t Work, Dec 1, 2010