In the early hours of this morning UK police surrounded the Ecuadorian embassy in London just hours after threatening in a diplomatic communication to storm the building and arrest Julian Assange, claiming that the 1987 Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act gives them the power to revoke diplomatic status in certain circumstances.
However, Article 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 states that:
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.
When the UK embassy was raided in Iran by several hundred people in November last year, the UK Foreign Minister William Hague condemned the act as a fundamental violation of international law:
"It amounts to a grave breach of the Vienna Convention which requires the protection of diplomats and diplomatic premises under all circumstances. We hold the Iranian Government responsible for its failure to take adequate measures to protect our Embassy, as it is required to do."
Even if the UK government believes it has the legal power to storm an embassy, such an act, regardless of the justification, would set an extremely dangerous precedent; any country in the future could feel free to violate one of the fundamental tenets of international law, the inviolability of diplomatic missions, on the basis of a convenient interpretation of national law.
While it is unlikely (although possible) that the UK will actually violate the sovereign territory of Ecuador, knowing perfectly well what the legal ramifications may be, even the threat of such action will undoubtedly lead to serious protests at UK embassies abroad, particularly in nations sympathetic to Ecuador, putting diplomatic staff at risk of injury or worse.
It comes down to the inescapable fact that the UK is willing to threaten an action that would at the very least cause an international incident in order to get their hands on a man who has not been charged with any crime, a man who is simply wanted for questioning by the Swedish authorities with regard to sex crime allegations.
Why would the UK take such extraordinary risks with their international standing and reputation over a man who can not even leave the embassy without being arrested even if asylum is granted?
Julian Assange has repeatedly said that he will submit to questioning and has indeed actively sought to engage with the Swedish authorities, only for his offers to be rebuffed without explanation. The Ecuadorian authorities also offered Sweden a chance to question Assange on the premises of their embassy in London, again only to be refused.
If the Swedish authorities only want to ask questions as they say, such refusals can only be seen as highly suspicious with regard to a man who is so badly wanted by the United States for exposing its criminal behavior and corruption in the diplomatic cables.
It is therefore legitimate to ask whether Sweden is indeed a US lapdog. Time will tell.
One can easily imagine the uproar if China had threatened to storm the US embassy in Beijing when Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng escaped and sought asylum there.
This reckless threat by the UK authorities crucially tarnishes both the spirit and substance of international law. It should be condemned by all right-thinking people, regardless of their opinion of Mr. Assange and the Wikileaks organization.
'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy’ by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)