Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said he doesn’t expect the U.K. to allow WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange to leave Ecuador’s embassy in London after the South American nation granted him asylum yesterday.
“The problem is that they aren’t going to give safe passage,” Correa said today in an interview on local radio channel, Radio Loja. “Julian Assange could stay indefinitely in our embassy.”
Assange, 41, sought asylum at the embassy on June 19 after exhausting options in U.K. courts to avert extradition to Sweden, where the Australian citizen faces questioning on allegations of rape and sexual molestation. With the granting of asylum, the U.K. and Ecuador have reached a standoff in an issue that has strained bilateral relations and raised questions about the principles of international law, said Diego Moya-Ocampos, a London-based analyst at IHS Global Insight.
“A stalemate has been reached with the U.K. committed to arresting and extraditing Assange to Sweden, and the Ecuadorian authorities remaining defiant,” Moya-Ocampos said by e-mail today. “A prolonged refusal by the U.K. to grant safe passage, something that seems highly likely, could be controversial as it could be interpreted as setting an international precedent.”
The U.K. government has denied allegations by Ecuador that it may storm the embassy, while stating that it won’t allow Assange to travel to South America.
Assange requested asylum to avoid what he says are U.S. efforts to punish him for leaking diplomatic and military cables on the Internet. Still, the U.S. has not charged Assange or sought his extradition from the U.K. or Sweden.
The absence of any political charges led Ecuador to grant the head of WikiLeaks “diplomatic” asylum, a legal instrument common in the Americas, though not recognized by the U.K. The Vienna Convention stipulates that nations are obliged to offer free passage to people with political asylum, without mentioning diplomatic asylum, said Robert Sloane, professor of international law at Boston University. The two sides may seek international arbitration to resolve the standoff, he said.
“This is a question of law that could be submitted to the International Court of Justice,” Sloane said in a telephone interview from Boston. “It would be a good option in the sense that it would allow each country to save face because each of them could simply say, ‘whatever the outcome, we’re complying with the judicial judgment.’”
Ecuador is seeking to generate international support to pressure the U.K. to grant the Australian anti-secrecy advocate safe passage. The Andean country said yesterday the Union of South American Nations called an emergency meeting to discuss U.K. “threats” to seize Assange from the embassy.
The 12-nation group, known as Unasur, will hold a meeting of foreign ministers on Aug. 19 in the Ecuadorean coastal city of Guayaquil, according to a statement published in Ecuador’s presidential gazette.
Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino has also requested an emergency meeting of the Washington-based Organization of American States as well as the Venezuelan-led group of nations known as ALBA.