Speech before the OAS about the threats of the United Kingdom and the Asylum for Julian Assange.
Washington august 24, 21012
Dear friends of the Americas,
I bring warm and fraternal greetings from the Government of Ecuador.
Ecuador, a beautiful country, free, democratic, deeply humanistic and independent for over two hundred years, and, for that, never again anybody’s’ colony.
Dear friends, I want to expose the situation of my country, in two very important subjects that have concentrate the worldwide attention since Wednesday of last week. The two subjects turn around the request for asylum that was made to us by the Australian citizen Julian Assange on June 19 of the present year.
The first fact is that our country received- on August fifteen- a written communication from the Government of the United Kingdom, in which they threatened to enter our embassy in London to arrest Mr. Assange. Because of such inadequacy of the British diplomacy, strongly responded by ours, Ecuador has received numerous demonstrations of support, headed by our friends of ALBA and UNASUR, and the express condemn to such attitude which disregards the principle of inviolability of diplomatic premises in any place of the world, and which is established in Article 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
The second fact is the granting of asylum that Ecuador gave to Mr. Julian Assange on august 16. I would like you to know that this was not a hasty decision, in any way. Ecuador took with seriousness the request and immediately began to study conventions, declarations and documents that will sustain the asylum as a legitimate universal figure that may be applied to a person that demonstrates being politically persecuted.
The two facts are related in only one point: the right of a free country to act according to its principles and the judicial frame of the international law.
The threat that Ecuador received, in an official British communication, constitutes an attempt to our sovereignty and a clear demonstration of prepotency before a geographically small country, but enormous in dignity and sovereignty. It constitutes an attempt because the threat violates express norms of international law, meaning, those norms that urge the States to solve their differences appealing to the means of pacific resolutions prevue in the international law and that are gathered in the United Nations Charter, article 2.
Nonetheless, it is fair to remember, friends of the American countries, that the threats began a few days after the entrance of Julian Assange in our Embassy, the British authorities began by warning verbally the Ambassador of Ecuador in London that the measures that our government will take “may affect its mission, its staff and its Ambassador”. This happened, specifically, during the meeting held on July 9 between the Ambassador Ana Albán and the authorities of the Foreign Office, who used the quoted expression.
It is necessary, also, to remind the international community that among the various precedents denounced before the Security Council of the United Nations- of which the United Kingdom is a permanent member, by intrusive actions in diplomatic premises, is the press release SC- 10463 , submitted on November 29, 2011. In that case, the affected country was, precisely the United Kingdom, and as a legal support it was invoked, this time affirmatively, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, that is, what is stipulated there about the inviolability of diplomatic premises and staff, which has to be respected and protected by the member States, in all the cases.
It is worth mentioning, equally, the resolutions of the Security Council of the UN, No 457, of December 4, 1979, and No. 461, of December 31, 1979, regarding the crisis of the United States Embassy in Teheran. Once again, the Vienna Convention was the legal standard to pronounce a strong condemn to the action of a State regarding the situation of the diplomatic of the staff and premises of a third State.
I emphasize today, in the core of the Organization of American States: Ecuador does not accept such intrusion and establishes its strongest protest. No country can treat another one as a colony. Those times are over.
The Conventions of Vienna on Diplomatic and Consular Relations do not leave any doubt regarding the obligation of all the States to respect the diplomatic and consular premises.
This subjective respect becomes the objective obligation of the inviolability of the missions, accepted norm by all the countries in the world. The mere intention of disrespecting this principle of universal coexistence must be rejected out front. For the Ecuadorian government such attitude obeys to the long overdue intention of some officer of the United Kingdom to arrest Julian Assange in a violent manner.
That is why, once again, we deeply thank the solidary demonstrations of the social movements, of ALBA, UNASUR and of so many countries that have condemned the British threat.
The asylum is a long term historic figure that responds to a humanistic view of the lives of the States and the Human beings.
The asylum and the refuge have a common origin in the ancient times and respond to the necessity of the human being to safe guard its life before the abuses of the power of the State, of any State. In Greece and Egypt the practice was already registered to go to temples or other cities to request protection against the persecution of the authorities. This practice continued on the Middle Ages, when the religious temples constituted the place to request asylum or refuge. During the French revolution, it was also common to find cases in which the political persecuted sought refuge in the legions of other nations. Nonetheless, this practice stopped being used in Europe, although during the Second World War and the Cold War cases were registered of diplomatic asylum for politic reasons.
In the present time, the asylum practice is regulated by international treaties but it has not left aside its fundamental purpose; this is, the protection of the human being before the persecution of those who bear the power.
There are emblematic cases of requests and granting of asylum. I want to name some that illustrate and contextualize the present one:
- The Hungarian cardinal JózsefMindszenty, who stayed for 15 years in the U.S. Embassy in Hungary, until the permission was granted for him by the Hungarian government.
- RaúlHaya de la Torre, Peruvian politician of the Revolutionary popular Alliance who was accused of instigating a Coup d’état in Peru on 1949. He sought protection in the Colombian Embassy in Peru. The dictatorial government of Manuel Odría denied him the safe conduct, and only under international pressure was he able to leave Peru after five years of permanency on the Colombian embassy.
- The asylum granted by Colombia to the coup instigator Pedro Carmona Estanga after the coup in Venezuela on 2002. Despite the fact that the government of Commander in chief Chávez considered that the granting of asylum did not correspond to the treaties, conventions and International Law, it granted the safe conduct as it corresponds to a State respectful of the sovereign right of the states and according to article 69 of the National Constitution which recognizes and guarantees the right to asylum.
- The Chinese activist Cheng Guangcheng, who sought refuge on April 22, 2012 on the United States embassy in Peking. He stayed there for a few weeks, until, as a result of a political agreement between the parts, he was allowed to travel to the U.S. with all his family.
- I present you with another emblematic case related with Latin America: the general Consul of Uruguay in Hamburg, Florencio Rivas, protected the life of 150 Jews during the Night of the Broken Glass (November 9 to 10, 1938). His strategy was to refuge them in the garden of the Hamburg Embassy. The SS set quarters outside the embassy intending to enter and apprehend them. In his quality of General Consul he took a Uruguayan flag and used the phrase “this is Uruguayan territory. Nobody can enter here without my permission or the permission of my government”. After the episode, he automatically granted visas to all the 150 Jews who were saved from the terrors of that sadly remembered night, and who afterwards had the opportunity to begin their lives again in Uruguay.
- During the Spanish Civil War the political asylum practice was recognized but it was understood that it was used for overthrown Heads of Government or political persecuted personalities. But this was not the case of most of the people who sought refuge in the Latin American embassies in Madrid.
Independently of the political standing of the countries with respect to the conflict, the humanitarian character of the asylum did not change, for rebels as well as for republicans. Between 15 and 20 thousand people requested asylum in all the embassies in Madrid, most of them during the three first months of the war. At the end of the war, it is estimated that around 3 thousand people remained inside the embassies under the protection of the different States.
Most Latin American, European and Turkish diplomats agreed to refuge any persecuted or threatened person. It was even agreed to extent the diplomatic immunity of the missions to surrounding buildings that were rented to welcome more people.
Chile, Norway and Argentina began granting massive asylums. Afterwards the embassies of France, Mexico, Panama, Rumania, Belgium, the Netherlands, Bolivia, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Japan, Paraguay, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and Uruguay also joined efforts. In a lower profile, the embassies of Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Yugoslavia and Turkey were also involved.
Moreover, we are strongly convinced of the validity of the principles of December 7, 1936 stated by the Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas still have, when he accepted the request for asylum of Leon Trotsky, a decision made despite the repeated rejections received to similar requests done by Trotsky to the North American government, the British Labor Party and the German government: “the Mexican policy, regarding its international relations as well as the treatment granted to citizens or subjects of other countries, does not only apply to the universally established norms, but it represents, along our history, a permanent effort to accomplish the evolution of the Law in a straight sense of justice for the nations and liberty for people, regardless of the precedence or origin of those. Loyal to that conduct, Mexico feels now in the duty to vindicate with its attitude one of the conquest of greater human content that the Human Rights had already accomplished: the prerogative of asylum for the exiled by political causes. The asylum does not imply on itself affinity of thought, purposes or tendencies, between the country that grants it and the subject that benefits from it…”
And I could continue giving examples of solidarity that lead to grant asylum to people that are in danger in any moment and for different reasons.
However, these days, in relation of the granting of diplomatic asylumto Julian Assange and the refusal of the United Kingdom to extent the mandatory safe conduct;amomg the social networks, this virtual place where wide discussions are held on local and global events, a very interesting debate was carried out that compares the situation of our asylum granting to what happened with the dictator Augusto Pinochet in British territory. I find the comparison legitimate, aside from educational for the consequences that such procedure left that facilitated the return of the dictator to Chile.
And we do not understand that precisely the United Kingdom, place of origin of such honorable thinkers like John Locke, David Hume, Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes or Bertrand Russell, or universal writers like Shakespeare, now turns to legal tricks to avoid legitimating the diplomatic asylum that Ecuador has granted Julian Assange in the heat of a diplomatic controversy that impinges the prestige of the British tradition.
One of the arguments that substances the figure of asylum is the idea of preserving the physical integrity of the persecuted. The English thinker Thomas Hobbes, sustained that the first right that a human being has is the right to preserve himself, so in exceptional cases of abandonment that have to face those who are pushed to seek shelter, there should not be the unmovable laws the ones that apply but the right, thus, law and right are as different as obligation and liberty”.
Hobbes, also said “(…) noman is obligated (when there is no protection of the law) to not protect himself through the best means available to him” and proceeded “if by mistake he or she is forced to carry out an action against the law, is totally exempt, because no law can obligate a man to abandon his own preservation”
Therefore, the nature moves the fact. The reasoning like the one presented by Hobbes justify the existence of institutions like asylum, thus, the human being is always exposed to contingencies that may obligate him to take exceptional measures.
In his request for asylum, Mr. Julian Assangeexpressed his fears and numbered the facts that put his life and personal integrity at risk. The long and careful analysis of the facts and the wide judicial background that exist on asylum lead us to grant it on august 16.
These are some of the points that Ecuador considered to grant asylum for Julian Assange:
The asylum in all its forms is a fundamental human right and creates obligations ergaomnes, meaning, “for all”, the States.
The diplomatic asylum, the refuge (territorial asylum), and the right to not being extradited, expulsed, surrendered or transferred, are comparable human rights, thus they are based on the same principles of human protection: no return and no discrimination
It corresponds to the State which grants the asylum to qualify the causes of asylum and, in the case of extradition, to value the evidences.
Regardless of the modality or form in which it is presented, the asylum has always the same cause and the same legal object, meaning, political persecution, which is a legal cause; and to safe guard the life, personal safety and freedom of the protected person which is a legal object.
The right to asylum is a fundamental human right; therefore, it belongs to the iuscogens, meaning, the system of imperative norms of right recognized by the international community as a whole, which does not admit a contrary agreement, annulling the treaties and dispositions of international law against it.
In the unforeseen cases on the law in force, the human being is under the safe guard of the humanity principles and the demands of the public conscience or under the protection and empire of the principles of the law of people derived from the established uses, of the humanity principles and the dictates of the public conscience.
The norms and principles that rule the rights to asylum, refuge, no extradition, no surrender, no expulsion and no transference are convergent, to the necessary extent to perfect the protection and providing it with the most efficiency. In this sense, the international bill of human rights, the right to asylum and refuge and the humanitarian law are complementary.
All these modalities of asylum and international protection are justified by the need to protect this person of an eventual political persecution, or a possible imputation of political felonies and/ or felonies connected to these last ones, which, to Ecuador’s judgment, not only would put at risk the life of Mr. Assange, but would also represent a serious injustice committed against him.
The international standards that substantiate our decision are the following:
- United Nations Charter of 1945, Purposes and Principles of the United Nations: obligation of all the members to cooperate in the promotion and protection of human rights;
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948: the right to seek and enjoy asylum in any country, for political reasons (Article 14);
- American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man of 1948: the right to seek and enjoy asylum in any country, for political reasons (Article 27);
- Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949, regarding the Due Protection of Civilians in War Times: in no case it is due to transfer the protected person to a country where they can fear persecutions because of their political opinions (Article 45);
- Convention on the Refugees Statute of 1951, and its New York Protocol of 1967: forbids to return or expulse refugees to countries where their life and freedom may be in danger ( Article 33.1);
- Convention on Diplomatic Asylum of 1954: the State has the right to grant asylum and to qualify the nature of the felony or reasons of persecution (Article 4);
- Convention on Territorial Asylum of 1954: the State has the right to admit in its territory people it judges convenient (Article 1), when they are persecuted for their beliefs, opinions or political filiations, or by actions that may be considered political felonies (Article 2), not being able the asylum granting State, to return or expulsed the asylum seeker that is persecuted for political reasons or felonies (Article 3); in the same way, the extradition does not proceed when it is about people who, according to the required State, are persecuted for political felonies, or for common felonies that are committed with political purposes, nor when the extradition is requested obeying political motives (Article 4);
- European Extradition Treaty of 1957: forbids the extradition if the requested Part considers that the felony imputed has a political character (Article 3.1);
- 2312 Declaration on Territorial Asylum of 1967: establishes the granting of asylum to the people that have such right according to Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including people who fight against colonialism (Article 1.1). The denial of admission, expulsion or return to any State where they can be object of persecution is forbidden (Article 3.1);
- Vienna Convention on the Law of the Treaties of 1969: establishes that the norms and imperative principles of general international right do not admit a contrary agreement, being null the treaty that at the moment of its conclusion enters in conflict with one of these norms (Article 53), if a peremptory norm of the same character arises, every existent treaty that enters in conflict with that norm is null and ended (Article 64). As far as the application of these articles, the Convention authorizes the States to demand their accomplishment before the International Court of Justice, with no requisition of conformity by the demanded State, accepting the tribunal’s jurisdiction (Article 66 b). The human rights are norms of theiuscogens.
- American Convention on Human Rights of 1969: the right to seek and receive asylum for political reasons (Article 22. 7);
- European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism of 1977: the required State has the faculty to deny extradition when there is danger of persecution or punishment of the person for their political opinions (Article 5);
- Inter American Convention for Extradition of 1981: the extradition does not proceed when the requested has been judge or condemned, or is going to be judge before an exception tribunal or ad hoc in the required State (Article 4.3); when, with arrangement to the qualification of the required State, it deals with political felonies, or connected felonies or common felonies persecuted with political purposes; when from the case’s circumstances, can be inferred that the persecuted purposes is mediated for considerations of race, religion or nationality, or that the situation of the person is at risk of being aggravated for one of those reasons (Article 4.5). The Article 6 disposes, regarding the Right to Asylum, that “none of the exposed in the present Convention may be interpreted as a limitation to the right to asylum, when this proceeds”.
- African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights of 1981: the right of the persecuted individual to seek and obtain asylum in other countries (Article 12.3);
- Cartagena Declaration of 1984: recognizes the right to refuge, to not being rejected in the borders and to not being returned;
- Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union of 2000: establishes the right to diplomatic and consular protection. Every citizen of the Union may seek refuge, in the territory of a third country, in which the Member State of nationality is not represented, to the protection of diplomatic and consular authorities of any member State, in the same conditions of the nationals of that State (Article 46).
The Government of Ecuador considers important to outline that the norms and principles recognized in the international instruments mentioned, and in other multi lateral treaties, have preeminence over the internal laws of the States, thus such treaties are based in a universally oriented normative by intangible principles, from which a greater respect is derived, guarantee and protection of human rights against unilateral attitudes of the same States. This would subtract efficiency to the international law.
Dear friends, it is important to outline that In the course of the last two months, we did all the efforts for the dialogues the Great Britain and the Kingdom of Sweden to continue, so we can find a legal and legitimate solution for Mr. Assange to respond, with no danger of extradition, to his judicial issues in Sweden.
Ecuador even directed a communication to the Government of the United States to know officially its position on the Assange’s case. That country never answered our questions.
In our dialogues with the United Kingdom and Sweden we requested the granting of guarantees so that Mr. Assange, while responding to the investigations from the Swedish justice, would not be extradited to a third country. We never had a favorable response.
This request was and is absolutely legal and legitimate; thus it is under the European legislation. In that sense, I want to emphasize that Ecuador never obstructed the Swedish judicial process. Instead, our country left the alternative open so the Swedish authorities could interrogate Mr. Assange in the premises of our embassy in London. There are antecedents that demonstrate that Sweden has proceeded in this manner with similar investigations in other countries.
Ladies and Gentlemen
The asylum granted to Mr. Julian Assange is, aside from the already exposed, the struggle for freedom of expression, the struggle for human rights, the struggle for life, the struggle for the figure of asylum to be respected in any place in the world.
Therefore, the statement made on august 16 by the British Secretary of Foreign Affairs, declaring that they felt disappointed on the decision of Ecuador of granting asylum to the Australian citizen Julian Assange, is another example of the different view that we have regarding rights and guarantees. Ecuador regrets that some British officers feel disappointed when a country meets and follows human rights approved in the universal declaration, rights that were not created to please one country or one power, but to protect all people. We are the ones who feel disappointed when a country that claims to respect human rights and international treaties threats to violate them.
Last night, the Ecuadorian ambassador in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and North Ireland received a letter from the Foreign Office of that State, note No. N~011/2012, of august 23, 2012 in which the United Kingdom, among other things, claims that:
“In reference to the Note6020/SANE/2012of august 17, 2012, the Foreign and Commonwealth Officeoutlines that there was not a threat in any moment against the Ecuadorian Embassy. The Foreign and Commonwealth Officeemphasizes that the respect and compliance of the international law is the core of the foreign policy conduct of the United Kingdom along with the principles of the Vienna Convention and that the United Kingdom always acts in absolute compliance with the provisions of the Convention”.
Ecuador applauds the change of attitude of the United Kingdom, however, it is important to stress that as can be clearly observed, it is not about the withdraw of the former aid memoire, in which by written and explicitly, the threat known by all was made. The text that I just read limits to make a subjective valuation on the content of the former communication. It is important to note that in diplomacy and international law clear and explicit manifestations of good faith are required between equal States, that should have been translated according to the international practice, in the withdraw of the note that has created this misstep, which is still valid and in force. We feel a discriminatory treatment from the United Kingdom, perhaps if this misstep would have happened with another country towards which they would have greater consideration, the request to withdraw the “aid memoire” or the public apology would have been imminent, we expected that, nota denial of the facts, we expected the unrestricted application of the United Nations principle on equal sovereignty of the States.
Ecuador registered the note delivered by the United Kingdom last night, however we have to take into account that the threat figure was already used, meaning that there was a transgression of the international law, for which we demand the express guarantee that under no circumstances our premises would be assaulted.
Let us remember too that the obligation of the States to not invoke internal laws to justify the not compliance of international obligations was transgressed.
Friends of the Americas, the Julian Assange case has allowed us the occasion to debate on the importance of the asylum as a universal figure that must be defended by defended by the sovereign States.
The Americas have the unique opportunity to ratify that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and, given as they are with reason and conscience, must behave fraternally with one another”.
That “every individual has the right to life, freedom and safety” and that “in case of persecution, every person has the right to seek asylum, and enjoy it, in any country”, as it is written on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1945. Today more in force than ever!
Finally I want to manifest, Mr. Chairman, that in the long deliberations that have been held in this Organization of American States, a declaration draft has been discussed during these days in which Ecuador has taken note and included a great amount of observations that were delivered and suggested by the different countries, and finally this morning, after the discussions of last night, Ecuador presents this resolution project about the subject that we are dealing with, that I insist, clearly includes theobservations that have been presented by the different countries. This is a draft document 1, that is the result of the conversations held and Ecuador presents to be considered by you in this meeting.
I want to thank Mr. Chairman and Mr. Representatives, Fellow Ministers from the different countries of the Organization of American States, for their kind attention to this exposition of the Ecuadorian Government.
Thank you very much.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Integration of Ecuador.