Unlawful to arrest Assange in Ecuador's embassy | The Jackal

17 Aug 2012

Unlawful to arrest Assange in Ecuador's embassy

Yesterday, The Guardian reported:

At a press conference on Wednesday, Patiño released details of a letter he said was delivered through a British embassy official in Quito, the capital of the South American country.

The letter 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."

It added: "We need to reiterate that we consider the continued use of the diplomatic premises in this way incompatible with the Vienna convention and unsustainable and we have made clear the serious implications that this has for our diplomatic relations."

The Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, actually states that the Secretary of State can only remove a foreign states land rights with consideration to public safety, to national security or to town and country planning. It would be far fetched indeed to argue that Assange was a threat to any of these things.

Under that act, they cannot enter and arrest people in Foreign Embassy's without the consent of the Secretary of State, and that consent must adhere to international law. The British simply do not have the lawful right to undertake what they've threatened to do. But the real kicker is this:

In the event of the severance of consular relations between two States:

(a) the receiving State shall, even in case of armed conflict, respect and protect the consular premises, together with the property of the consular post and the consular archives;


“The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the consular premises against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the consular post or impairment of its dignity.”

That means if the UK decides to sever relations with Ecuador, remove it's land rights as a sovereign nation and effectively close the embassy, Ecuador has the right to choose another state to represent and look after their embassy. It would still be unlawful for the British to enter the premises and arrest Assange, because he is not a threat to public safety.

The act does however talk about priority search provisions, but these are specific to Northern Ireland and have no bearing on this unprecedented case.

Likewise the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (PDF) simply talks about cooperation between states and how Embassy's should generally function. Nowhere does it confer power to Britain to invade another countries embassy, even in times of war:

The States Parties to the present Convention, affirming that the rules of customary international law should continue to govern questions not expressly regulated by the provisions of the present Convention, have agreed as follows: The establishment of diplomatic relations between States, and of permanent diplomatic missions, takes place by mutual consent.

In my opinion this means the British are not allowed to undertake any action at the Ecuadorian embassy without their prior consent, and if they move to close the embassy by removing its land rights, they still need the permission of the foreign state that Ecuador appoints to look after their embassy.

The British would be causing a serious indignity to Ecuador if they did storm the place, and not only breach their own laws, but international law as well. This would destroy good relations, and could be viewed as an act of war, which puts into perspective just how stupid the threats were to begin with.