Diplomatic row said to threaten fabric of international law...
By Ernest A. Canning on 8/16/2012, 11:23am PT  

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning

Undaunted by a U.K. threat to "storm" Ecuador's London embassy if the Latin American nation refused to hand over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to British authorities, this morning, Ecuador granted Assange's request for political asylum.

At a press conference in Quito, Ecuador's foreign minister Ricardo Patino strongly denounced the threat received from the U.K.: "Today we've received a threat by the United Kingdom, a clear and written threat that they could storm our embassy in London if Ecuador refuses to hand in Julian Assange."

Ecuador's decision to grant asylum in the face of the U.K.'s threat have not only triggered a diplomatic row but have threatened to tear apart the very fabric of international rule of law, according to experts. Where one could anticipate Sweden's denouncement of Ecuador's asylum decision as "unacceptable", as it summoned Ecuador's ambassador to Stockholm, the British threat to storm Ecuador's embassy was described by University of Australia Professor of International Law Don Rothwell as "extraordinary" and a "significant violation" of Article 22 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Rights that could "find its way before an international court."

As Ecuador's foreign minister issued an angry denouncement of the U.K. threat, noting that his nation was "not a British colony", American filmmaker Michael Moore called on his friends in the U.K. to mount a protest of the U.K. threat outside Ecuador's London embassy. Occupy Wall Street protesters called for "people to take part in a 24/7 occupation of the British consulate in New York." Reuters reported a "clash between protesters and British police outside of Ecuador's embassy."

But, as discussed in a must-read opinion piece by Mark Weisbrot of the UK Guardian, the very concept of an international rule of law is open to question given the impunity by which the United States and its allies have operated both at home and abroad...

Hypocrisy

How ironic! Only last year, both the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council formally condemned an Iranian attack on the British embassy in Tehran, drawing a comparison to the widely condemned 1979 Iranian assault on the U.S. embassy in Tehran and the ensuing hostage crisis.

Yet, now we see the British government threatening to engage in the very same lawless behavior in order to seize an individual who has never been formally charged with a crime. To the contrary, as Weisbrot correctly notes, Sweden has sought extradition solely to question Assange --- an extradition which former Stockholm prosecutor Sve-Erik Alhem described as "unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate" because Assange has always been available to answer questions in the U.K.

In fact, according to Weisbrot, an offer was extended for Swedish authorities to question Assange inside Ecuador's London embassy.

Weisbrot argues that the real reason why Ecuador's asylum decision has drawn an unprecedented threat by a democratic government to invade a sovereign embassy lies in the fact that Ecuador, by granting asylum, has recognized that Assange has demonstrated a valid fear of being persecuted by a supposedly democratic United States government, which claims to be the world's foremost defender of human rights.

Assange has long argued that extradition to Sweden would result in subsequent extradition to the U.S. for trial on unspecified charges. He took refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy in June "to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over assault and rape claims, which he denies," according to the BBC.

While claims of U.S. virtue have long been undermined in the international arena by its "disregard for the human rights of the victims of U.S. wars and foreign policy, such as the three million Vietnamese and more than one million Iraqis who were killed," Weisbraut explains, it has clung to the notion that human rights were always observed "within its borders."

To that claim, Weisbrot offers this powerful statement:

Today, the US claims the legal right to indefinitely detain its citizens; the president can order the assassination of a citizen without so much as even a hearing; the government can spy on its citizens without a court order; and its officials are immune from prosecution for war crimes. It doesn't help that the US has less than 5% of the world's population but almost a quarter of its prison inmates, many of them victims of a "war on drugs" that is rapidly losing legitimacy in the rest of the world. Assange's successful pursuit of asylum from the US is another blow to Washington's international reputation. At the same time, it shows how important it is to have democratic governments that are independent of the US and – unlike Sweden and the UK – will not collaborate in the persecution of a journalist for the sake of expediency.

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RT video today covering the events surrounding the UK threat to storm Ecuador's embassy follows below...

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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968). Follow him on Twitter: @Cann4ing.