Swedish Court Denies Julian Assange’s Appeal To Quash Detention Order

Assange @ Ecuadorian Embassy
Assange @ Ecuadorian Embassy

On November 20, 2014, a Swedish appellate court denied Julian Assange’s application to quash the lower court’s four-year-old order for his detention for questioning about allegations of sexual misconduct with two women in Sweden in 2010.[1]

Assange had argued that the order could not be enforced because he has been and still is in Ecuador’s embassy in London, U.K. under a grant of diplomatic asylum and that the order was restricting his civil rights.

The Swedish court, however, was not persuaded. It said, “In making this assessment, account must be taken of the fact that Julian Assange is suspected of crimes of a relatively serious nature.” Moreover, “there is a great risk that he will flee and thereby evade legal proceedings if the detention order is set aside. In the view of the court of appeal, these circumstances mean that the reasons for detention still outweigh the intrusion or other detriment entailed by the detention order.” In short, the court could not “set aside the detention solely because Julian Assange is in an embassy and the detention order cannot be enforced at present for that reason.”

On the other hand, the court noted that Sweden’s investigation into Assange had come to a halt and that the prosecutors’ failure to examine alternative avenues of investigation “is not in line with their obligation – in the interests of everyone concerned – to move the preliminary investigation forward.”

An alternative avenue of investigation previously had been proposed by Assange: interview him at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Last month in the House of Commons the U.K. Foreign Minister, Hugo Swire, said, “These are matters for the [Swedish] prosecutor to decide on, but if she wished to travel here to question Mr Assange in the embassy in London, we would do absolutely everything to facilitate that. Indeed, we would actively welcome it.”

Assange’s attorney said the decision would be appealed to Sweden’s Supreme Court. A more likely outcome, in this blogger’s opinion, would be the Swedish prosecutor’s interrogating Assange at the Embassy in London and then determining whether criminal charges would be brought against him.

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[1] This post is based upon Crouch, Julian Assange: Swedish court rejects appeal to lift arrest warrant, Guardian (Nov. 20. 20, 2014); Dickson, Swedish appeal court upholds Assange detention order, Reuters (Nov. 20, 2014); Cowell, Swedish Court Rejects Appeal by Julian Assange, N. Y. Times (Nov. 20, 2014), ; This blog has a number of posts about Assange’s grant of diplomatic asylum by Ecuador and the legal skirmishes over whether, when and where he would be interrogated by the Swedish prosecutor.

 

 

Ecuador’s Dispute with the United Kingdom and Sweden Over Julian Assange: Granting Asylum to Assange

On August 16, 2012, the Government of Ecuador made its decision to grant the petition for diplomatic asylum submitted by Julian Assange, an Australian national temporarily residing at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, United Kingdom (“the Decision”).[1] The U.K. and Sweden challenge the legitimacy of this action, and this post will explore the issues relating to this dispute.[2]

The Decision sets forth a list of what it describes as 12 “fundamental principles of general international law” regarding asylum that purportedly support its grant of asylum. These principles are said to be derived from, and supported by, Ecuador’s own laws regarding asylum and 16 international treaties and declarations.

The Decision also states what it deems to be the relevant facts for the application along with a summary of Ecuador’s efforts to cooperate with the governments of the U.K., Sweden and the U.S. and the measures Ecuador will seek from the U.K. regarding Assange.

Let us examine these legal and factual assertions.

The Relevant Law

In its extensive legal discussion, the Decision fails even to mention what, in my opinion, is the essential first step in any such analysis: the International Court of Justice’s  judgment in 1950 that diplomatic asylum was not part of general international law.

In Colombian-Peruvian Asylum Case, I.C.J. Rep. 1950, p. 266 (Nov. 20, 1950), the court concluded, “A decision to grant diplomatic asylum involves a derogation [or departure] from the sovereignty of [the territorial] . . .  State [where the diplomatic premises are located]. It withdraws the offender from the jurisdiction of the territorial State and constitutes an intervention in matters which are exclusively within the competence of that State. Such a derogation from territorial sovereignty cannot be recognized [as a matter of general international law] unless its legal basis is established in each particular case.” Moreover, if the State granting diplomatic asylum had the “unilateral and definitive” authority to determine whether the offense of the asylum-seeker was a political or common crime, it would “aggravate . . . the derogation” and is “not inherent in the institution of diplomatic asylum.” (In addition, Judge Alvarez from Chile, dissenting in this case, said there also was no customary American international law of diplomatic asylum.)

Seven months later in the same case the ICJ rendered another judgment that stated, “The safety that arises out of [diplomatic] asylum cannot be construed as a protection against the laws and against the jurisdiction of legally constituted tribunals [of the host state].” (Haya de La Torre Case, I.C.J. Rep. 1951, p. 71 (June 13, 1951).)

Nor did Ecuador’s Decision refer in any way to the unsuccessful effort by Latin American countries to overrule the I.C.J. judgments by having diplomatic asylum recognized in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations or the unsuccessful U.N. effort to prepare and adopt an international, multilateral treaty on the subject of diplomatic asylum. In 1977 the U.N.’s International Law Commission concluded that there was not sufficient interest to justify any further work on the subject.

Another response to these ICJ rulings was an Inter-American Conference in Caracas, Venezuela on March 28, 1954, that adopted the text of the Inter-American Convention on Diplomatic Asylum. Today it is the only such treaty in the world, and Ecuador is one of the only 14 of the 35 states of the Organization of American States that have ratified that treaty.[3] In other words, 179 of the 193 U.N. member states have not adopted this or any similar treaty. The U.K. and Sweden, which are not in the Inter-American system, obviously are not parties to this treaty; nor is the U.S., which was eligible to sign and ratify. As a result, this treaty cannot and does not impose any legal obligations on the U.K., Sweden or the U.S.

It, therefore, is not too surprising that Ecuador’s Decision does not analyze the terms of this treaty for the current dispute although it is on the list of 16 international treaties and declarations that purportedly support the Decision.

Even more damning, the Decision does not address the clear problem facing all instances of diplomatic asylum, as pointed out in the ICJ judgment. A decision like Ecuador’s to grant asylum to someone in one of its embassies in a foreign country is at least a potential infringement upon the competence of that foreign country. Such an infringement or derogation cannot be ignored. Indeed, as discussed in a prior post, Article 41(1) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations states that “it is the duty of all persons enjoying such [diplomatic] privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State. . . .” In addition, Article 41(3) of that Convention provides that the “premises of the mission must not be used in any manner incompatible with the functions of the mission as laid down in the present Convention or by other rules of general international law or by any special agreements in force between the sending and the receiving State.”

Instead of focusing on these clearly relevant legal issues, Ecuador’s Decision merely lists 15 other treaties and declarations that mention asylum while not offering direct legal support for the Decision. They are the following:

  • All four of the countries involved in the current dispute are parties to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which is the major general treaty on refugees and asylum and which was discussed in a prior post. But it does not apply for various reasons. Assange cannot claim he has a “well-founded fear of persecution” on certain grounds in his home country of Australia, and the treaty excludes “any person with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that . . . [he] has committed a serious non-political crime [here, in Sweden]  outside the country of refuge prior to his admission to that country as a refugee . . . .”
  • Ecuador was a state party to five of the other cited treaties that mentioned asylum, but they are not relevant to the current application or grant of asylum.[4]
  • Another four treaties mention asylum, but they are from other regions of the world, and Ecuador is not, and could not be, a state party to them.[5]
  • One treaty does not mention asylum at all. Instead it is a treaty on the interpretation of treaties.[6]
  • The last four of the 16 cited sources are declarations, not treaties, and thus are not sources of binding international legal obligations on any state.[7]

Nor is the possibility of the U.S.’ seeking or imposing the death penalty on Assange for the crime of making public secret U.S. documents “persecution” under international law. Under Article 6 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime and not contrary to the provisions of the present Covenant . . . .  This penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court.” [8]

The U.K. and Sweden as well as other countries in Europe, however, have a different opinion regarding the propriety of the death penalty after initially permitting such in Article 2(1) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 1953. This changed in 1985, when Protocol No. 6 to this treaty went into force and provided in Article 1, “The death penalty shall be abolished. No one shall be condemned to such penalty or execution.” [9]

As a result, those 46 European states that have ratified Protocol No.6, including the U.K. and Sweden, routinely deny requests to extradite suspects to the U.S. when there are true risks of the imposition of the death penalty.

Indeed, the U.S.’ extradition treaty with the European Union, to which both the U.K. and Sweden belong, expressly provides that when an offense for which extradition is sought is punishable by death under the law of the requesting state [here theoretically, the U.S.] but not under the law in the requested state [here theoretically, the U.K. or Sweden], the requested state may grant the extradition on condition that the death penalty shall not be imposed or if imposed shall not be carried out. A similar provision is included in the recent extradition treaty between the U.S. and the U.K.

Assange, therefore, cannot have a “well-founded fear” of imposition of the death penalty even if it were regarded as “persecution,” which it is not.

Perhaps Ecuador was implicitly suggesting that the 11 of the 16 listed instruments that occurred after the previously mentioned ICJ decision of 1950 changed the general international law regarding diplomatic asylum. The Decision hints at this when it said, “The lack of international convention or internal legislation of the States cannot be legitimately claimed to limit, impinge or deny the right to asylum.” But a recent  treatise on public international law asserts that this type of asylum is not part of general international law as does a recent thesis at the University of Leiden,  a contemporary expert and London’s Economist.  Ecuador’s veiled contrary suggestion, I submit, is patently ridiculous.

The U.K. certainly disagrees with Ecuador’s legal argument.

On August 17th (the day after the grant of asylum), the U.K.’s Foreign Secretary William Hague stated that the U.K. “was disappointed” in this decision and would not allow Assange safe passage out of the country. “The UK does not accept the principle of diplomatic asylum. It is far from a universally accepted concept: the [U.K.] is not a party to any legal instruments which require us to recognize the grant of diplomatic asylum by a foreign embassy in this country. Moreover, it is well established, even for those countries which do recognize diplomatic asylum, it should not be used for the purposes of escaping the regular processes of the courts.” In addition, the U.K. has “painstakingly explained the extensive human rights safeguards built into our law.”

These points were reiterated at the August 24th OAS meeting by the UK’s Permanent Observer, Philip Barton. He said the U.K. was not party to the Inter-American Convention on Diplomatic Asylum, and “there is no legal basis for the [U.K.] to meet the request of . . . Ecuador to grant safe passage for Mr. Assange out of the [U.K.].” He also said the U.K. has advised Ecuador about “the safeguards in place under the European Convention on Human Rights, international law, European Union law and [U.K.] law [that] fully address the concerns raised by Mr. Assange and by . . . Ecuador.”

Observer Barton further told the OAS meeting representatives that the purported concern about Assange’s human rights upon extradition to Sweden was “completely unfounded,” and an “argument to this effect was comprehensively rejected by the courts in the UK.” The U.K. and Swedish courts “robustly implement and adhere to the highest standards of human rights protection.”

In any event, the Decision’s legal argument, in my opinion, is not persuasive.

The Relevant Facts

The Decision starts its statement of the relevant facts with the noncontroversial: Assange is a communication professional with international awards for his struggle for freedom of expression, freedom of press and human rights, and through WikLeaks he has publicized documents from different sources. The Decision then provides more contentious, and I think unfounded, assertions.

According to Ecuador’s Decision, the U.S. and other countries that produced these documents have threatened retaliation risking Assange’s safety, integrity and even his life and have refused to provide guarantees to protect his life and safety. Extradition of Assange to a third country outside the European Union [the U.S.] is feasible without the proper guarantees for his safety and personal integrity. If extradited to the U.S., Assange would not have a fair trial; he could be judged by a special or military court; and he probably would receive cruel and demeaning treatment and be condemned to a life sentence or the death penalty.

Other than stating the U.S. is not a party to the Inter-American Convention on Diplomatic Asylum and does not recognize the concept of diplomatic asylum, the U.S. has declined to comment on the merits of the dispute and has urged trilateral negotiations by the parties to resolve the dispute. There, however, is no credible evidence for Assange and Ecuador’s impugning the independence of fairness of the U.S. federal judicial system, and any risk of capital punishment in the U.S. would be eliminated by the European practice and law forbidding extradition to other countries where there is a risk of such punishment.

Any accusation against the independence and honesty of the U.K. courts is absurd. Indeed, Assange in 2011-2012 challenged his extradition to Sweden on the merits in the U.K. courts (magistrate’s court, High Court and Supreme Court) without any objection to the procedural rights he was accorded.

Ecuador’s Decision also has harsh allegations against the Swedish prosecutor’s office with respect to its ongoing investigation of Assange on criminal sexual charges. That office allegedly has prevented Assange from the total exercise of his legitimate right to defense to criminal charges. His procedural rights allegedly have been infringed during that investigation. Pretrial detention of Assange in Sweden would facilitate his extradition to a third country, i.e., the U.S.

Sweden has strongly rejected these charges. It did so at meetings with Ecuador’s Ambassador in Stockholm shortly after June 19th (when Assange arrived at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London) and on August 16th. This rebuttal, in part, emphasized that in the last months of 2010 Assange challenged the European Arrest Warrant on the merits in Swedish courts (district court, court of appeal and Supreme Court) without any objection to the procedural protections of Swedish law.

In addition, after Assange was in temporary “residence” at the Ecuadorian Embassy, Sweden rejected his offer to be interrogated at that Embassy with respect to the Swedish investigation. Sweden did so because it wanted to confront Assange in Sweden with the existing evidence and conduct supplementary interviews of others depending upon what Assange had to say. The Swedish prosecutors also wanted him in their country to assure his presence at any criminal trial that might result from the investigation, as required by their law.

At the OAS meeting on August 24th, a Swedish diplomat stressed that Sweden had an independent judiciary that needed to proceed with investigation of Assange’s alleged sexual offenses. There had been no request to Sweden for extradition to a third country, she added, but European and Swedish law prohibits extradition when there is a risk of capital punishment.

The Decision also says the governments of the U.K., Sweden and the U.S. will “not respect the international conventions and treaties and would give priority to internal laws of secondary hierarchy, contravening explicit norms of universal application.” It is difficult to understand exactly what Ecuador means by this allegation. If it means that the U.K., Sweden and the U.S. do not agree with Ecuador’s legal argument, then that is certainly correct.

In summary, there is no credible evidence to support the extreme accusations against the judicial systems of the U.K., Sweden and the U.S.

Conclusion

Ecuador’s granting of asylum to Assange, in my opinion, is wrong on the law and wrong on the facts. Indeed, there is speculation in the press that the real reason for President Correa’s deciding to grant “asylum” in this case was to enhance his own political standing in his own country for next year’s presidential election.

Other than litigating these issues before the International Court of Justice or arbitrating or mediating them before a neutral third party, the only other peaceful way to resolve this dispute is for the parties to do so through diplomatic negotiations, as recommended by the OAS on August 24th.

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[1] According to the Decision, Assange’s written asylum application was submitted on June 19th with a June 25th written supplement, but neither of these documents is publicly available. This secrecy seems more than ironic for the self-proclaimed advocate for public transparency and disclosure. It also is ironic for Ecuadorian President Correa, who is known for his hostility to the press, to be the defender and protector of Assange.

[2] A prior post set forth the background for this dispute, and another post discussed the issue of the inviolability of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

[3]  The other 13 parties to the Inter-American Convention on Diplomatic Asylum are Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

[4] U.N. Charter, Art. 1(3) (one of U.N. purposes is achieving “universal cooperation in . . . promoting and encouraging respect for human rights”); American Convention on Human Rights, Art. 22.7 (“Every person has the right to seek and be granted asylum in a foreign territory, in accordance with the legislation of the state and international conventions, in the event he is being pursued for political offenses or related common crimes”); Inter-American Convention for Extradition (no extradition when “the person sought has been tried or sentenced or is to be tried before an extraordinary or ad hoc tribunal of the requesting State” (Art. 4.3) or when “the offense for which the person is sought is a political offense, an offense related thereto, or an ordinary criminal offense prosecuted for political reasons” (Art. 4.4) or when “persecution for reasons of race, religion or nationality is involved, or that the position of the person sought may be prejudiced for any of these reasons” (Art. 4.5): and Convention may not “be interpreted as a limitation on the right of asylum when its exercise is appropriate” (Art. 6)); Inter-American Convention on Territorial Asylum, (“Every State has the right, in the exercise of its sovereignty, to admit into its territory such persons as it deems advisable” (Art. I); this includes persons who “are persecuted for their beliefs, opinions, or political affiliations, or for acts which may be considered as political offenses” (Art. II); no “obligation to surrender to another State, or to expel from its own territory, persons persecuted for political reasons or offenses” (Art. III); no extradition of persons “sought for political offenses, or for common offenses committed for political ends, or when extradition is solicited for predominantly political motives” (Art. IV)); Geneva Convention [IV] Relative to Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Art. 45 (“In no circumstances shall a protected person be transferred to a country where he or she may have reason to fear persecution for his or her political opinions or religious beliefs”).

[5] African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Art. 12.3 (“Every individual shall have the right, when persecuted, to seek and obtain asylum in other countries in accordance with laws of those countries and international conventions”); European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, Art. 46 (“Every citizen of the [European] Union shall, in the territory of a third country in which the Member State of which he or she is a national is not represented, be entitled to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of any Member State, on the same conditions as t he nationals of that Member State”); European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, Art. 5 (“no obligation to extradite if the requested State has substantial grounds for believing that the request for extradition . . . has been made for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing a person on account of his race, religion, nationality or political opinion, or that that person’s position may be prejudiced for any of these reasons”); European Extradition Treaty, Art. 3.1 (“Extradition shall not be granted if the offence in respect of which it is requested is regarded by the requested Party as a political offence or as an offence connected with a political offence”).

[6] Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Art. 53 (“treaty is void if . . . it conflicts with a peremptory norm of general international law . . . . [i.e.,] a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of States as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character”), Art. 64 (“If a new peremptory norm of general international law emerges, any existing treaty which is in conflict with that norm becomes void and terminates”), Art. 66(b) (A party to a “dispute concerning the application or the interpretation of article 53 or 64 may . . .submit it to the International Court of Justice for a decision”).

[7]  Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 14 (“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the [U.N.]”);U.N. Declaration on Territorial Asylum (recommends territorial asylum practices include asylum for “persons struggling against colonialism” (Art. 1.1) , non-rejection of persons at the frontier and non-explusion to state where person may be subjected to persecution (Art. 3.1)); American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, Art. 27 (“Every person has the right, in case of pursuit not resulting from ordinary crimes, to seek and receive asylum in foreign territory, in accordance with the laws of each country and with international agreements”); Cartegena Declaration (at 1984 meeting to discuss protection of refugees in Central America, Mexico & Panama, reiteration of “importance of non-refoulement (including the prohibition of rejection at the frontier)”).

[8]  In addition, Article 1 (1) of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment states that “torture” “does not include pain or suffering arising from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

[9]  It should be noted that Protocol No. 6 had an exception that allowed the death penalty in times of war, but in 1988, Protocol No. 13 to the European Human Rights Convention eliminated this exception. Both the U.K. and Sweden have ratified Protocol No. 13.

Ecuador’s Dispute with the United Kingdom and Sweden over Julian Assange: Background

Assange @                      Ecuadorian Embassy
Ecuadorian Embassy, London

On August 16, 2012, the Government of Ecuador granted the petition for asylum submitted by Julian Assange, an Australian national temporarily residing at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, United Kingdom.[1]

Assange, of course, is the individual behind WikiLeaks, the international, online, self-described not-for-profit organization publishing submissions of private, secret, and classified media from anonymous news sources, news leaks and whistleblowers. In 2010 it obtained many secret U.S. documents and released them to the world through various media outlets.[2]  No U.S. criminal charges have been publicly filed against Assange with respect to the releases of these U.S. government documents, but he fears that such charges secretly have been filed or will be filed and that such charges may seek life imprisonment or the death penalty.[3]

In August 2010 Assange was visiting Sweden, where he allegedly had certain sexual encounters with two Swedish women, who subsequently filed some kind of complaint about these encounters with Swedish authorities. As a result, these authorities have been investigating whether Assange committed rape or some other kind of sexual assault on these women. To pursue that investigation the authorities obtained an European Arrest Warrant to extradite Assange to Sweden for questioning.

In December 2010 Assange, then in Britain, learned about the European Arrest Warrant and voluntarily went to a British police station to advise them of his whereabouts. He immediately was arrested and taken into custody. After a short stay in prison, Assange was freed on bail of  £340,000 (nearly $540,000), of which £ 200,000 was deposited with the court, plus his being confined to  a specific site in Norfolk, England, fitted with an electronic tag and ordered to report to police daily.

Assange then went to the U.K. courts to challenge his extradition to Sweden.  In February 2011, however, a U.K. court upheld the Swedish request, which was affirmed nine months later (November) by the U.K.’s High Court and in May 2012 by the U.K.’s Supreme Court (5 to 2). In addition, that Supreme Court on June 14th denied Assange’s request for a rehearing and ordered that he be extradited to Sweden by July 7th.

Thereafter (on June 19th) Assange somehow violated the terms of his bail and managed secretly to enter the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he filed his claim for asylum.

In the roughly two months between June 19th and Ecuador’s August 16th’s granting of asylum, the governments of Ecuador and the U.K. apparently had private diplomatic exchanges and public sparring over this situation. Especially significant in light of later developments were the following incidents:

  • On August 15th, the U.K. Embassy in Quito apparently delivered a letter to Ecuador’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that said: “You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the Embassy.” The letter purportedly also stated, “We need to reiterate that we consider the continued use of the diplomatic premises in this way incompatible with the Vienna Convention [on Diplomatic Relations] and unsustainable and we have made clear the serious implications that this has for our diplomatic relations.”  The latter added, “”We sincerely hope that we do not reach that point, but if you are not capable of resolving this matter of Mr. Assange’s presence in your premises, this is an open option for us.”
  • The Ecuadorian government immediately and publicly disclosed some of the contents of the August 15th letter and characterized the statements just quoted as “threats against the sovereignty of the Ecuadorean embassy” and as “a clear breach of international law and the protocols set out in the Vienna Convention [on Diplomatic Relations].”
  • In response, the U.K. Foreign Office stated, “The UK has a legal obligation to extradite Mr. Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offences and we remain determined to fulfill this obligation.” Therefore, “it is only right that we give Ecuador the full picture. Throughout this process we have drawn the Ecuadorians’ attention to relevant provisions of our law, whether, for example, the extensive human rights safeguards in our extradition procedures, or the legal status of diplomatic premises in the UK.” Moreover, the U.K. stated its continued commitment “to reaching a mutually acceptable solution.”
OAS Building, Washington, D.C.

On August 24th, at Ecuador’s request, the Organization of American States (OAS) held an extraordinary Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, to discuss the dispute. This meeting concluded with a unanimous resolution focused on the inviolability of diplomatic missions under international law. A subsequent post will review this OAS meeting and the legal issue of the status of diplomatic missions in host countries.

Another subsequent post will examine the merits of the Assange asylum claim.

In the meantime, Assange continues to be a full-time “guest” at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.


[1] This post is drawn from caches of articles about all of these events in the New York Times and the Guardian.

[2] By happenstance, as reported in a prior post, some of the U.S. government documents released by WikiLeaks were cables from the then U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador, Heather Hodges, to the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. asserting that there were multiple reports of illegal activities by Ecuador’s national police chief and that Ecuador’s President Correa might use these activities to manipulate the police chief. After these cables became public, President Correa called these statements “unacceptable, malicious and imprudent” and expelled Hodges. In retaliation, the U.S. expelled the Ecuadorian Ambassador to the U.S., Luis Gallagos. Both Hodges and Gallagos, in my opinion, are honorable professional diplomats, and neither one did anything wrong.

[3] A U.S. national and member of the U.S. Armed Forces, Bradley Manning, allegedly participated in obtaining these documents for WikiLeaks, and he currently is in U.S. custody facing criminal charges for that alleged conduct. Discussion of the many issues relating to his case is beyond the scope of this post.

Commentary on the Spanish Criminal Cases Against Judge Garzon

Judge Baltasar Garzon

A prior post summarized the three pending criminal cases against Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon.

This month has seen significant developments in these cases. On February 8th, the trial of the Franco-era case ended with Judge Garzon telling the court that he was motivated by “the helplessness of the victims.” The decision in that case is still to come. On February 9th, Judge Garzon was convicted of the charges involving his approval of wire-tapping attorney-client communications. On February 13th the court dismissed the case about the Judge’s alleged bribery by Banco Santander.

Now I have further commentary about these cases.

Reaction to the Criminal Charges Arising Out of the Franco-Era Investigation

The case that has drawn the most attention is the one with respect to Judge Garzon’s investigation of Franco-era human rights violations.

This case against the Judge has been severely criticized by the major Spanish newspaper, El Pais, which proclaimed that the case was reckless for “being charged . . . with apology for and defense of a dictatorial regime of cursed memory for many Spanish people. it also has a tone of provocation and insolence, which is hard to accept in democratic Spain. . . . The overtly fascist ideological tone of the legal action has contaminated the proceedings from the start, and is causing serious damage to the international image of Spain.”

Madrid demonstration for Garzon
Madrid demonstration for Garzon

Spanish citizens supporting the Judge have demonstrated in front of the Supreme Court building with signs saying “Stop the Persecution of Judge Garzon.” This obviously is only one segment of Spanish society which still has deep-seated divisions over its Civil War of the 1930’s.

Similar criticism has been leveled by international human rights organizations and leading newspapers. Amnesty International said this case was “a threat to human rights and judicial independence.” Human Rights Watch had similar harsh words: the case “threatens the concept of accountability in Spain and elsewhere.” The International Commission of Jurists said this case was “an attack against one of the pillars of the rule of law.” An author in Dissent said the main purpose for these charges was to “silence . . . those who’ve dared give voice to memories of political abuse and those who might pursue universal jurisdiction.” In the U.S. a New York Times editorial observed that this case was “a disturbing echo of the Franco era’s totalitarian thinking.”

Moreover, these charges against Garzon have spawned at least two collateral proceedings.

In March 2011 a British human rights organization, Interights, filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights asserting that under international law there could be no valid amnesties or statutes of limitations for crimes against humanity, that Judge

Garzon could not validly be punished for his reasoned interpretation of law and that the charges against Judge Garzon were threats to judicial independence. The European Court, however, is unlikely to take any action on this complaint for many months.

The prior year, May 2010, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights and nine other human rights organizations filed a complaint with the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers (and five other U.N. special rapporteurs and working groups) alleging that these criminal charges against Judge Garzon were an improper interference with the Spanish judiciary. I have not been able to find any action or report about what these U.N. entities have done, if anything, with respect to this complaint.

It should be noted that this May 2010 complaint to U.N. entities was submitted before the WikiLeaks disclosure of the U.S. diplomatic cables about U.S. efforts to stop Spanish criminal cases against U.S.officials, and there was no allegation in this May 2010 complaint that the U.S. or Spanish officials improperly caused the criminal charges against Judge Garzon to be made.

As reported in prior post, on January 19, 2012, two of these same human rights organizations–the Center for Constitutional Rights of New York City and Berlin’s European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights–alleged that U.S. and Spanish senior governmental officials improperly had attempted to interfere with the Spanish judges handling three criminal cases against U.S. officials. The asserted bases for the allegations were U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks; these cables are now available on the web. The allegations themselves were set forth in a complaint the organizations filed with the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers. However, this recent complaint to the Special Rapporteur does not allege that the U.S. or Spain or both improperly had instigated the criminal charges against Judge Garzon. Perhaps the unstated hope of this complaint is that the Rapporteur would uncover evidence of such an improper attempt.

The absence of such a direct accusation in the recent complaint to the Rapporteur is significant, in my opinion, because simultaneously with filing of that complaint, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights along with seven other human rights organizations released a joint statement supporting Judge Garzon on his investigation of crimes related to the alleged crimes of the Franco regime. The statement asserts that application of international law to such crimes as was done by Judge Garzon does not constitute judicial malfeasance under Spanish law. Indeed, the joint statement elucidates the international law against the validity of amnesties for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. But the joint statement did not allege that this criminal case against the Judge was the result of improper actions of U.S. or Spanish officials.

Reaction to the Other Two Criminal Cases Against Judge Garzon

There has been considerable commentary about the Judge’s conviction in the tapping of attorney-client communications that has been discussed in posts on February 10th and February 11th.

The El Pais editorial about the conviction should also be mentioned. It said that the Supreme Court’s rationale was  “hair-brained, absurd and even offensive.” This rationale asserted that Judge Garzon sought to weaken the suspects’ “defense strategies” to such a degree as to place “the Spanish penal system on the same level as that of totalitarian regimes.” That absurdity of this rationale was shown by the facts that the wire taps were sought by the Office of the Public Prosecutor, were maintained by another judge who replaced Judge Garzon in the corruption investigation and were initially approved by the Madrid High Court. Absurd though it was, the rationale served the Supreme Court’s “objective: eliminating Garzón as a judge.”

The dismissal of the third case involving alleged bribery of Judge Garzon makes it unnecessary to make further comment on that case.

Conclusion

The criminal cases against Judge Garzon are very important. First, they are obviously important for the Judge personally. Second, they are important, in my opinion, for the independence of Spanish judges from internal (or external) political opposition to judicial decisions. Third, they are important around the globe for judicial enforcement of international human rights.

Alleged Improper Interference with Spanish Judicial Process by U.S. and Spanish Officials

As mentioned in a prior post, on January 19, 2012, two human rights organizations–the Center for Constitutional Rights of New York City and Berlin’s European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights--alleged that U.S. and Spanish senior governmental officials improperly have attempted to interfere with the Spanish judges handling three criminal cases against U.S. officials. These allegations were in a complaint the organizations filed with the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.

Now we examine the specifics of these allegations. Afterwards  we will take a quick look at the role and function of the Special Rapporteur to understand the context in which these accusations are being made.

The Allegations

The complaint to the Special Rapporteur alleges that U.S. officials have breached the right to an independent and impartial judiciary by interfering with the exclusive authority of the Spanish judiciary to determine these cases without restrictions, improper influences, pressures, threats or interference. These actions by U.S. officials allegedly sought to deprive victims of serious crimes, including torture, of the right to an impartial proceeding and the right to redress.

With respect to Spanish officials, it is alleged that they improperly cooperated with the U.S. officials and that the Spanish prosecutors breached their legal duty to act fairly and impartially.

The factual basis for these allegations is a collection of 28 U.S. diplomatic cables from the period July 2004 through May 2009 that subsequently were put into the public record by WikiLeaks. The following, I believe, fairly summarizes the complaint’s account of these cables:

  • The U.S. officials who were involved in these communications were the U.S. Ambassador to Spain, two Republican U.S. Senators (Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Mel Martinez of Florida) and U.S. diplomatic staff in Spain.
  • The Spanish officials who were so involved held various positions in the government’s executive branch, including the Vice President, the Foreign Minister, the Attorney General and the Chief Prosecutor along with lower-level people in the Spanish government.
  • Very significantly, in my opinion, there is no mention in the complaint of U.S. or Spanish officials’ allegedly communicating directly with the Spanish judges who were involved in these three cases in any way. There is no allegation that the U.S. or Spain threatened the judges or tried to bribe them to halt the cases. Nor is there any claim that the Spanish officials had improper and ex parte communications with the judges.
  • In many of these communications, the Spanish officials stressed that the Spanish judiciary was independent of the government, and I think that the previous summaries of these three cases demonstrates that independence. The complaint to the Special Rapporteur, however, argues, in my opinion, that these Spanish statements show that all participants were aware that their communications were improper. I do not find this argument persuasive.
  • The substance of the communications was the U.S. extreme displeasure with the Spanish courts’ processing these cases and the potential adverse consequences for the overall U.S.-Spain relationship from continuation of the cases. The U.S. kept pressing the Spanish officials to try to stop these cases, but the consistent Spanish response was their inability to control that decision because the courts were independent.
  • Moreover, as we have seen in prior posts, the three cases continue to be processed by the Spanish courts. The cases are not over.

I am not an expert on U.S. or other countries’ diplomatic practices, but these communications are what I would expect to occur when two countries have a problem. Diplomats and other officials for one country express their displeasure with something the other country is doing and try to persuade that other country to change its behavior.

Therefore, although I regard myself as an international human rights advocate and want these cases against U.S. officials to proceed on the merits and although I have great respect for the two human rights organization pressing this complaint, I am not persuaded there was improper conduct by the U.S. or Spain as alleged in the complaint. Here especially I invite comments indicating I may have missed or misinterpreted some of these diplomatic cables or their significance for this complaint to the Special Rapporteur.

In a subsequent post I will discuss the Spanish criminal charges now pending against Judge Baltasar Garzon, who was a judge in two of these cases against U.S. officials and whether the charges against the Judge are related to the alleged U.S. and Spanish improper attempts to interfere with the Spanish judiciary.

The Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers

In 1994 the U.N. Commission on Human Rights created this position after it noted “the increasing frequency of attacks on the independence of judges, lawyers and court officials and the link which exists between the weakening of safeguards for the judiciary and lawyers and the gravity and frequency of violations of human rights.” The initial period for this position was three years, but it has been extended by the Commission and since 2006 by its successor, the U.N. Human Rights Council.

This Special Rapporteur, among other duties, is required to “inquire into any substantial allegations transmitted to him or her and to report his or her conclusions and recommendations thereon.”

This Special Rapporteur is one example of the 33 thematic mandates of the Human Rights Council. They constitute one way that the Council seeks “to examine, monitor, advise and publicly report on . . .  major phenomena of human rights violations worldwide.”

The term “rapporteur,” by the way,  is a French term that is used in international and European legal and political contexts to refer to a person appointed by a deliberative body to investigate an issue or a situation.

Conclusion

The complaint to the Special Rapporteur and the Spanish criminal cases against U.S. officials and against Judge Garzon are important unfinished matters. We all should make special efforts to stay abreast of further developments, especially since the U.S. media does not provide persistent coverage of these matters.

Spain Invokes Universal Jurisdiction for Three Criminal Cases Against U.S. Officials and Soldiers

As discussed in a prior post, under customary international law and certain treaties, a nation state has universal jurisdiction over certain crimes of international concern regardless of where the crimes were committed or the nationality of the victims or perpetrators. These crimes of international concern are (a) piracy; (b) slavery; (c) war crimes; (d) crimes against peace; (e) crimes against humanity; (f) genocide; and (g) torture.

Spain has implemented this principle in its own domestic law and has invoked it in significant cases, including the attempt to prosecute Augusto Pinochet, the former President of Chile, for alleged human rights violations in his home country and Spain’s pending prosecution of former Salvadoran military officers for the November 1989 murder in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter (the Jesuits case).

We also have seen that torture is illegal under international law and that the U.S. is a party to the multilateral treaty against torture. As a result, the U.S. has submitted reports about its compliance with the treaty to a U.N. committee.

All of these elements come together in three pending criminal cases in Spain against certain U.S. officials for their alleged involvement in torture allegedly committed by U.S. citizens who were employees of the U.S. military or government:

  • One relates to the alleged use of torture at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It is directed at “members of the American air forces or military intelligence and all those who executed and/or designed a systemic torture plan and inhuman and degrading treatment against prisoners in their custody.”
  • Another case is against six members of the George W. Bush Administration who were involved in drafting legal memoranda that allegedly facilitated the torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and other U.S. detention facilities around the world (the so-called “Bush Six” case)  .
  • The third case concerns the killing of a Spanish journalist-cameraman in Baghdad, Iraq on April 8, 2003, by a U.S. tank’s firing on a hotel where the man was staying.

Each of these three cases will be the subjects of subsequent posts.

On January 19, 2012, another front in these battles was opened with the filing of a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers. On the basis of U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, the Center for Constitutional Rights of New York City and Berlin’s European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights alleged that U.S. and Spanish senior governmental officials improperly have attempted to interfere with the judicial process in these three cases. This important development also will be discussed in a subsequent post.[1]

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[1] The issue of judicial independence under international law is currently being litigated in a case against Ecuador.

Unfortunate Ecuador-U.S. Diplomatic Spat

Ecuador and the U.S. are engaged in an unfortunate diplomatic spat.

It started on April 5th, 2011, when Ecuador expelled the U.S. Ambassador and professional diplomat, Heather Hodges. Her sin? Sending a July 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Quito to the U.S. State Department that recently became public by WikiLeaks. The cable recommended the revocation of the U.S. visa of Jaime Aquilino Hurtado, Ecuador’s national police chief. The grounds for this recommendation, said the cable, were multiple reports of his alleged illegal activities, including his possible involvement in schemes to extort bribes from a taxi union, steal public funds and ease trafficking of undocumented Chinese immigrants. The cable also noted that “some [U.S.] Embassy officials believe that [Ecuadorian] President Correa must have been aware of them when he made the appointment” of Mr. Hurtado and that Correa “may have wanted to have . . .[a police] chief whom he could easily manipulate.” Such statements about Correa, said the Ecuadorian government, were “unacceptable, . . . malicious and imprudent.”

Later President Correa said that the leaked cable indicated that the U.S. Embassy has informants in Ecuador’s police and armed forces. “This is espionage,” he said.  Not true, I say. Normal diplomatic practice for the U.S. and all other countries, I assume, is to be informed about the activities of the other country and to talk with various officials in its government. The leaked cable, in my opinion, reflects that normal practice. Note too that in the reports from Ecuador there is no claim that the statements in the cable are untrue.

Two days after Ecuador had declared the U.S. Ambassador persona non grata, the U.S. did the same with respect to the Ecuadorian Ambassador to the U.S., Luis Gallegos, who also is a professional diplomat.  The only stated ground was to protest what the U.S. saw as the unjustified Ecuadorian expulsion of the U.S. Ambassador.

This U.S. expulsion Of Mr. Gallegos was totally unjustified, in my opinion. Ambassador Gallegos has an impressive record of service to his country and the world community. He chaired the U.N.’s Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, granting recognition to the struggles and rights of the more than 650 million people with disabilities. In addition to degrees from the Central University of Ecuador, he holds a M.A. degree as a Humphrey Fellow Scholar from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy-Harvard University. An U.S. NGO regarding Latin America said that Ambassador Gallegos capably performed his duties as Ambassador to the U.S. with “a lowered voice, an incisive mind, and an abiding sense of humor, which he needed.”

I recently heard Ambassador Gallegos speak at a meeting in Minneapolis honoring Silvia Ontaneda as the new Consulate General of Ecuador for Minnesota. By his remarks and manner anyone could tell the Ambassador was a wonderful man and honorable diplomat. He indeed exhibited a calm manner, incisive mind and sense of humor.

I hope that this spat will not interfere with improving commercial and other relations between the two countries.