Julian Assange is to remain in the Ecuadorian embassy after the UK and Sweden indicated they will ignore a UN ruling which stated that he has been ‘arbitrarily detained’ for the three and a half years he has spent within the embassy, as well as 550 days of house arrest, and 10 days of solitary confinement in Wandsworth Prison prior.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) also determined that he must be immediately granted ‘freedom of movement’ and is entitled to compensation for the five years his liberty has been obstructed. The UK government has ‘rejected’ the ruling, which means Assange is still likely to be arrested should he step outside the embassy.
The Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond has been particularly vocal, saying the ruling is “ridiculous” and calling the WGAD:
…a group made up of lay people and not lawyers
However, this is simply not true. The WGAD is in fact composed of a mixture of legal practitioners and top-ranking academics possessing some of the most distinguished careers, and credentials, to be found anywhere in the world.
The mainstream media has not reported this fact, and many outlets have poured scorn on the ruling and the panel that gave it. In a Guardian article sub-headed “The fugitive pulled a masterstroke by referring his case to a UN panel gullible enough to embrace it” Marina Hynde dismisses the ruling, saying:
I don’t want to go out on too much of a limb here, but my sense is that the finest legal minds are not drawn to UN panels as a career path.
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In the past the WGAD’s rulings have helped to free Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, the Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, and Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, who was imprisoned in Iran. They were applauded by members of the UN, including the UK and Sweden, as upholders of international law and Human rights.
The award winning human rights journalist Jonathan Cook warns:
A major international institution upholding the rights of political dissidents around the world as they face illegal detention, abuse and torture is being turned into a laughing stock with the enthusiastic connivance of supposedly liberal media outlets like the Guardian and the BBC.
The Secretary of the WGAD, Christopher Peschoux, has gone on the record saying (video) that the ruling is legally binding due to its roots in International Human Rights law, and treaties ratified by both the UK and Sweden. Given that both countries fully co-operated with the investigation by giving evidence, arguments and justification for their position in what has been a 16 month long process, it is bizarre that they would now attempt to reject the ruling.
Former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray said:
Countries who have ignored rulings by this UN panel are rare. No democracy has ever done so. Recent examples are Egypt and Uzbekistan. The UK is putting itself in pretty company.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is simply applying the same human rights standards to the UK and Sweden as they apply anywhere else in the world. By disparaging and ridiculing a respected institution that has failed to give them the answer they want, the UK and Swedish governments, with a complicit and unquestioning media in tow, have undermined international law and jeopardise the progress of human rights around the world. Not only does this place political dissidents in even greater danger, it ultimately humiliates these very nations and their governments, by exposing their double standards and utter contempt for justice.
Featured image via Flickr (mrgarethm)
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