Julian Assange’s situation, what UN experts said from 2012 to the present

UN headquarters

It was the year 2012. While closing the UN General Assembly meeting, its President was commending the efforts carried out by different entities in order to “stabilise World’s increasing geo-strategic volatility and unpredictability”. Among these, the choice of Ecuador to give asylum to Julian Assange, was mentioned. This was described in the meeting’s official document as an action based on the Country’s  tradition of sheltering victims of political persecution. Moreover, it was highlighted that “the incident presented a unique opportunity for the global community to debate the political, legal and humanitarian aspects of exile”.

Ecuador was definitely aligning with principles which were very different from those when it allowed the British Police to arrest Assange or when it authorised the collection of and handing over to the US documents and personal effects that he  had to leave behind in his room at the Ecuadorian Embassy.

As the former Ecuadorian consul Fidel Narvàez recently highlighted, this action does not represent something acceptable from the point of view of the asylum International regulation. “Julian Assange was under Ecuadorian protection, which means Ecuador had legal obligations to protect him and by handing over his personal belongings to the US it has basically committed a crime,” Narvàez stated.

Former Ecuadorian consul Fidel Narvàez, Westminster Magistrates Court 30.05.2019

According to him, by acting like this Ecuador qualified itself as an accomplice in the persecution of a man it was supposed to protect.

In the 2012 General Assembly document that we quoted, the Wikileaks publisher was mentioned indirectly, but since then, the UN nations referred to Julian Assange’s case several times, always with authoritative analysis of the situation from a human rights point of view.

First and foremost, four years ago, we have the qualified opinion expressed by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD). As explained in the news section of the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner in an article appeared on 5 February 2016, the WAGD adopted Opinion No. 54/2015, in which it stated that since his arrest in 2010 “Mr. Julian Assange was arbitrarily detained by the Governments of Sweden and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.

“The Working Group considered that Mr. Assange has been subjected to different forms of deprivation of liberty: initial detention in Wandsworth prison which was followed by house arrest and his confinement at the Ecuadorian Embassy”, the document affirms. It was a “really significant victory that brought a smile to my face”, Assange commented on that occasion, despite the British Foreign Office stating that the WGAD’s opinion was ridiculous and it wouldn’t change anything.

The panel of UN experts had clear ideas regarding the actions to take: ” The Working Group therefore requested Sweden and the United Kingdom to assess the situation of Mr. Assange to ensure his safety and physical integrity, to facilitate the exercise of his right to freedom of movement in an expedient manner, and to ensure the full enjoyment of his rights guaranteed by the international norms on detention. The Working Group also considered that the detention should be brought to an end and that Mr. Assange should be afforded the right to compensation.”

United Nations flag

This didn’t happen and in December 2018 UN human rights experts repeated a demand that the UK abides by its international obligations and immediately allows Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to walk free from the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has been obliged to stay for over 6 years to protect himself from potential US extradition.

On the 11th of April this year, his fears materialised as he was arrested inside the Ecuadorian Embassy by UK undercover police, his political asylum rescinded by the Ecuadorian Administration of Lenin Moreno. Immediately after that, more than one independent UN expert spoke up regarding how serious the situation was.

A tweet by Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial executions Agnes Callamard appeared highlighting that “by expelling Assange from the Embassy, Ecuador allowed GB to arrest him, taking him one step closer to extradition to the US, thus exposing him to risks of serious human rights violations.”

According to Callamard, GB has arbitrary detained Mr Assange for years, possibly endangering his life.

Furthermore, the UN independent expert on the right to privacy, Joe Cannataci, said that the arrest wouldn’t stop him from investigating the violations of Mr Assange’s right to privacy  subjected to during his stay at the Ecuadorian Embassy. It turned out in fact that the Wikileaks publisher had been video and audio spied upon and recorded in at least the  last year he spent in the place that should have been a safe refuge for him.

The last crucial statement came from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer, an extract of which is still pinned in his Twitter account as a reminder of the grave attack carried out by four democratic states (US, UK, Sweden and Ecuador) against Julian Assange. He “has been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological Torture,” the tweet says.

This journey through time shows how UN repeatedly called for Julian Assange to be freed. They defined the international legal standard, which states should adhere to.  However, the US Government seems not to want a fair fight on this matter. As UN expert opinions explained to the world so many times, US and its allies are aware that if they play by the rules of international law, they will lose  since, as highlighted by attorney Bill Simpich they know very well that “revealing war crimes is not a crime”.

About Sara Chessa

Reporter and Human Rights Activist, member of the National Union of Journalists from 2015.
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