Ecuador’s Plea for Mediation in the Assange Standoff

By Ginsey Varghese

In early January, Ecuador Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa indicated interest in mediation by a “third country or personality” to resolve the asylum case of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.

Assange has been living in Ecuador’s embassy in London since June 2012, avoiding extradition to Sweden on a rape charge. Paulina Dedaj, “Assange asylum ‘not stable,’ Ecuadorian embassy says,” Fox News (Jan. 9) (available at http://fxn.ws/2DX3Vaq).

The Swedes are no longer pursuing the case, but the United States still may want Assange extradited in connection with the WikiLeaks publication of U.S. military information.

Today, a U.K. court denied Assange’s request to invalidate the arrest warrant for him, after his lawyers argued that there was no need for extradition since the original charges in Sweden had been dropped.  “Julian Assange arrest warrant still stands, court rules,” BBC News (Feb. 6)(available at http://bbc.in/2GT7obb). The request was denied.

The BBC earlier reported that Assange’s current arrangement is unsustainable. “A person cannot live in those conditions forever,” Espinosa said. “Julian Assange: Ecuador seeks mediator in ‘unsustainable standoff,’” BBC News (Jan. 9) (available at http://bbc.in/2DZYc3S).

Assange earned notoriety in 2010 when WikiLeaks released confidential materials about U.S. military activity in Iraq and Afghanistan, which included helicopter video of civilians being killed in Iraq, diplomatic correspondence of underground negotiations and classified documents about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Liam Stack, Nick Cumming-Bruce & Madeleine Kruhly, “Julian Assange: A Legal History.”  N.Y. Times (Updated Jan. 26)(available at http://nyti.ms/2mZAywg).

There are rumors of a secret U.S. arrest and extradition warrant for his connection to exposing U.S. state secrets if he leaves the embassy. Maggy Ayala & Steven Erlanger, “Ecuador Gives Assange Citizenship Worsening Standoff with Britain.” N.Y. Times (Jan 11) (available at http://nyti.ms/2EzDfvk).

Assange fears prosecution by the United States, and British officials have not provided any assurances that he would not be extradited. Alexandra Valencia, “Ecuador says exploring mediation to solve Assange standoff,” Reuters (Jan. 9)(available at http://reut.rs/2DHNEpB).

CNN earlier reported that the British police maintain an arrest warrant for Assange because he jumped bail after the British Supreme Court denied his extradition appeal. Jason Hanna, “Swedish court refuses to revoke Julian Assange’s arrest warrant,” CNN (Nov. 20, 2014) (http://cnn.it/1r0v79Y). See also Ana Melgar, Jamie Grey, and Kara Fox, “WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange granted Ecuadorian citizenship,” CNN (Jan 11) (http://cnn.it/2D3H4wT).

Assange described the situation since his arrest as a “terrible injustice.” Robert Booth, “Julian Assange’s stay in London’s embassy untenable, says Ecuador,” Guardian (Jan. 9) (available at http://bit.ly/2CLUs4B).

When Ecuador initially granted asylum to Assange, he was viewed as a political hero by many for opposing “US imperialism”; but today, with his interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Assange’s supporter base has shifted to “hard-right nationalists,” according to the Guardian‘s James Ball, “The only barrier to Julian Assange leaving Ecuador’s embassy is pride,” Guardian (Jan. 10)(available at http://bit.ly/2DguTtu).

Reuters earlier quoted Espinosa, who stated, “No solution can be reached without international cooperation and without cooperation from the United Kingdom.”

The Guardian noted that Assange’s lawyer appeared to welcome Ecuador’s mediation proposal, and emphasized that the U.K should “respect[] its human rights obligations and commitments to the United Nations.”

But UK government countered that Assange should leave the embassy and face justice.

The diplomatic standstill has only worsened with Ecuador’s grant of citizenship to Assange last month, a decision that Ecuador Foreign Minister Espinosa explained was made after careful review of Ecuador’s obligations under Ecuadorean law and international law, according to the New York Times.

Ecuador’s “mediation” pitch may be a route to resolution, but so far, the stalemate continues.

The author is a CPR Institute 2018 intern. She is a law student at Pepperdine University’s School of Law in Malibu, Calif.  

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