Britain and Sweden will continue to seek the arrest and extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange regardless of the rulings of a UN legal panel that has called his three-and-a-half year refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London a case of “arbitrary detention” and a “deprivation of liberty.”
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told a British TV channel that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is “made up of lay people not lawyers,” adding that “its conclusions are flawed.”
In the light of their investigation and findings, the widely respected UN panel, is considered the highest international legal authority on detention, called upon the governments of Britain and Sweden 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.”
Both governments however adhere to the view, that in this case, domestic law takes precedence over international law. A statement from the British Government said the ruling “changes nothing. We completely reject any claim that Julian Assange is a victim of arbitrary detention. The UK has already made clear to the UN that we will formally contest the working group’s opinion.”
The governments claim that the European Arrest Warrant against Mr. Assange, who is wanted in Sweden over an allegation of rape (that he denies) takes precedence over all else.
At a press conference organised by his supporters, Mr. Assange appeared on web cam to respond to the new developments in the situation. He said Mr. Hammond’s statement was “below the stature of a Foreign Minister” and “insulting to the UN.” He argued that the decision of the working was a matter of settled international by an international body that both the UK and Sweden helped found, and through a process that both countries participated in. Both countries participated in the inquiry and now seek to pull out because they “don't like the outcome” he said.
Not only are Britain and Sweden by their actions “weakening international law” Mr. Assange noted, at a diplomatic level the countries will not be treated seriously as “international players that obey international obligations.” He also warned of the consequences for Britain and Sweden, like their removal from UN committees, blocking them in voting processes, and in the last resort, even sanctions.
As supporters of Mr. Assange gather outside the Knightbridge address of the Ecuadorian Embassy to celebrate the positive developments, it appears clear is that although the celebrated whistleblower’s liberty from forced asylum may not happen immediately, the end is within sight. The UN ruling has shifted the balance, both in law and the weight of public perception in favour of Mr. Assange, and damaged the credibility of Swedish and British actions.