Two years after first finding refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London, Julian Assange shows no sign of leaving his adoptive home; and for good reason. With British police on round-the-clock surveillance posted in front of the redbrick building, and with a European Arrest Warrant in his name over allegations of rape in Sweden, Assange has a lot to worry about. Not to mention that Washington is poised to swoop in and indict him on charges similar to the ones launched against Chelsea Manning. According to his lawyers, were Assange to leave the embassy, he would be arrested on the spot and extradited to Sweden for trial before being briskly flown stateside.
Nevertheless, Ecuador's Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patiño, recently reiterated his country's unwavering support for Assange's asylum and offering to house him "as long as necessary". In a joint video conference meant to mark the two-year anniversary of the whistle-blower self-imposed embassy-arrest, Patiño talked in depth about the insurmountable obstacles that were thrown his way by the Swedish, American and British authorities.
The Minister went on and explained how Ecuador is compelled by international law to accept and protect the whistle-blower asylum request. "It was our duty to protect him [and] it is a complete impossibility" for Ecuador to turn him over, quipped Patiño. Indeed, taking into account the great number of binding international documents signed by Ecuador, such as the UN's 1951 Refugee Convention or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Minister does seem to be on the right side of the law.
Were these international treaties to be properly enforced, then the United Kingdom, by stopping Assange from being transferred to Ecuador, has violated Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which not only recognizes the right to seek asylum from persecution, but also to "enjoy" it. Patiño even pointed out that one of history's many ironies is that the meaning of the aforementioned article was actually expanded during the 1948 negotiations to include the supplementary right to "enjoy asylum" at the insistence of the British delegation.
The minister also called on both the British and Swedish to push for a diplomatic solution to overcome the deadlock over Assange's fate, in accordance with the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Indeed, according to reports, the working group set up between Ecuador and the UK last year to untangle the complex legal web surrounding Assange's asylum request was 'unilaterally terminated' by the British.
After two years in legal and diplomatic limbo, what are Assange's options for the future? Looking at the case-file and other precedents, not many. His asylum (which looks more and more like house arrest) is likely to continue well into the future. He may even wait until 2020, when the statue of limitations for his alleged crimes in Sweden runs out. In a recent column in USA Today, Michael Ratner, Assange's lawyer condemned the British Scotland Yard for wasting taxpayer money - more than $10 million - by illegally keeping watch of the embassy because the law that demanded his extradition has changed. "The allegations that originally secured Assange's extradition order to Sweden would no longer suffice. Now, a decision to charge Assange with a crime is necessary for extradition, but Sweden has never made that decision." he said.
Nevertheless, we shouldn't forget that his two-year stay with the embassy is not unheard of in international relations. During the Cold War, for example, Cardinal Mindszentcy of Hungary spent 15 years in the US embassy in Budapest after being tortured and handed a life sentence courtesy of the Communist regime. It shouldn't be surprising to see Snowden living in his self-imposed exile for the foreseeable future, especially since Ecuador vowed not to give up on him.
The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer
But why is Ecuador so keen on sheltering Assange? Beyond the obvious binding character of international conventions, there are also deeper reasons for Ecuador's support for Australia's rogue whistle-blower. The country is embroiled in a longstanding tussle with the U.S. over its Americas policy, conducted mainly through the use of international forums like the Organization of American States (OAS).
In the age of Assange's Wikileaks, which have exposed the contorted relationships entertained by Washington's establishment throughout the world, it is simply absurd for America to play the part of the global human rights watchdog. Yet this is precisely what has been happening in Latin America. Washington has been very vocal in its criticism of the region's human rights record, issuing damning and biased annual reports and making its influence felt through the help of a body of the OAS, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Ecuador has accused the U.S. of using the position of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (SRFE) to promote political dissent.
For a country that has smeared the meaning of human rights, stripping them of their substance, playing the blame game with others over their alleged moral failings just serves to reinforce the idea that indeed might is always right. Henry Kissinger, in one of the leaked documents dating from the 70s, probably summed up this moral relativism the best: "The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer".