Since Julian Assange and Wikileaks arrived in my home country of the UK I have been gripped by the story. I’ve seen him debate at the Frontline club for Wikileaks’ rights to exist. I’ve listened to him share his own personal thoughts on his work. I’ve stood outside the Ecuadorian embassy where he is currently fighting extradition to Sweden. And now I’ve just watched him speak from a window at the Ecuadorian embassy as the diplomatic rift surrounding him intensifies and unfolds.
The problem is that since Julian sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy a little over two months ago nobody has really been able to do very much. However, the recent news that the UK issued a written and verbal “warning” to Ecuador, which recently granted Julian Assange political asylum, is an interesting move. The UK claim that they can revoke Ecuador’s sovereignty and enter the Ecuadorian embassy if Assange is not handed over. The actual law cited is Britain’s 1987 Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act that states it permits the revocation of diplomatic status of a building if the foreign power occupying it “ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post.”
This got me thinking.
How have other countries resolved such controversial situations? Who are they and what happened?
After a bit of research I found only a handful of similar cases and two of them belong to Israel and the US.
Israel’s most famous controversial case involving foreign diplomatic missions is that of Adolf Eichmann. In 1960, the Mossad undertook the capture Adolf Eichmann, the infamous Nazi behind the ‘final solution’. After a long process to find him they tracked him down to Argentina. The Mossad feared diplomatic extradition would be highly difficult to obtain and planned to kidnap and smuggle him out of the country instead. After capturing and drugging him they flew him to Israel. Despite the breach of Argentina’s sovereignty, Eichmann’s trial went ahead and he was found guilty and hanged.
The US showed their hand In the 1956 case involving Jozsef Mindszenty, a Catholic cardinal and opponent of communism and the Stalinist persecution in Hungry. Jozsef walked into the US embassy in Budapest and claimed political asylum much like Assange. After being imprisoned for treason, he was later freed during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. After claiming asylum he went on to live in the US embassy for 15 years. Eventually, he left the ground after agreeing to exile in Vienna.
So what are the options for the UK?
Maybe the UK, like Israel, will breach a country’s sovereignty albeit; using a legal home country loophole. They could enter the embassy, arrest Julian and pass him to Sweden. Simple! Not quite. The UK would almost be seen to be breaking International law to full-fill their obligation to European Law. For Israel the reward of capturing Eichmann was deemed greater than the risk of breaching Argentina’s sovereignty. I don’t think the same can be said for the case of Julian Assange and the UK yet.
So maybe they’ll take America’s route and leave him confined to the Embassy. Here he can just sit and wait, watching all the shoppers leave the famous Harrods department store, for years to come.
Realistically the case is currently too early to call, but one thing is for sure in this great diplomatic mess, such situations are very rare. The actions of one country have the potential to erupt this diplomatic stalemate into unprecedented waters. I for one will be following this all the way…