Britain Shreds a Fundamental Principle of Diplomatic Relations

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


5 Responses to “Britain Shreds a Fundamental Principle of Diplomatic Relations”

  1. If the Tories are still Tories, they’ll rise to the challenge and kick Cameron out – but they won’t.

    Maybe the Ecuadorian government is shit, but at least tienen cojones.


  2. Given the nature of the present extradition treaty between the US and the UK, it is impossible to believe that this could be a plot to extradite Assange to the US, but otherwise I agree with your analysis. It is deeply stupid to threaten to revoke diplomatic status from the Ecuadorian embassy in this case, and reflects all too well the kind of legalistic nonsense that passes for thinking in all too many parts of our government. Can they really not know what the effects of this will be?


  3. If the Tories are still Tories,…

    Dream on, Tai De. 😉

    Can they really not know what the effects of this will be?

    I believe that the European establishment – not just the British – is somewhat disoriented, Foarp. They are lacking an ethical compass. The online edition of a traditionally liberal German weekly – Die Zeit – has published two articles yesterday: one that criticizes Ecuador’s political leaders, and one that suggests that the issue of the embassy’s status was “basically irrelevant”, because Assange will be arrested anyway as soon as he leaves the embassy. The remarkable thing is that journalists at the paper has a tradition of insisting on liberal values and on integrity. It seems that you only need to drop the name “Assange”, and all critical faculties gets suspended at once – not only in Britain.

    It’s probably advocacy journalism of another kind. “Only free governments under the rule of law are entitled to break the law”, so to speak. A dubious trend.


  4. Just caught up with this here and on FOARPs site.

    Cameron’s collective govt need to see an analyst re diplomatic status issues raised on both sites.

    There is a plot to hand Assange over to the US and the other snakes in the grass are in Sweden.

    The Swedish sex charges are a joke, full stop. Put simply, Assange had it off/took advantage of a couple of willing political groupies who were later manipulated into regretting their actions.

    OMG, he didn’t respect me in the morning.

    So, big deal, he is no male role model.

    Whatever, I predict that a new generation of Anon hackers will go after Cameron like a tong lord, and there will be a lot of dirty laundry there for a public airing.

    This is asymmetrical warfare.



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