People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 39

September 30, 2012



South America Backs Ecuador


Yohannan Chemarapally


AT a special meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS) held in Washington on August 24, there was overwhelming support for the decision of the Ecuadorian government to grant political asylum to the Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange. The meeting was held at the specific request of the Ecuadorian government to consider a resolution rejecting attempts to put at risk “the inviolability” of its embassy in London, where Assange had taken refuge in the last week of June. The draft resolution submitted by Ecuador to the OAS wanted the UK to strictly comply with the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The 34 member body now has expressed its “solidarity and support” with Ecuador in the ongoing diplomatic impasse with the UK over the granting of political asylum to the Wikileaks whistle blower.




In the resolution that was passed, the OAS rejected “any attempt that may put at risk the inviolability of the premises of diplomatic premises.” The OAS urged Britain and Ecuador to “continue to engage in dialogue in order to settle their current differences in accordance with international law.” The US and Canada, which are members of the grouping, had tried to mount a rearguard action against Ecuador, but they found themselves to be in a hopeless minority. Only two countries, Trinidad and Tobago along with Panama, supported Washington. Initially, Washington had objected to the holding of the emergency meeting on the grounds that it “was a bilateral issue between Ecuador and the UK and that the OAS has no role to play in the matter.” The reservations of the US and Canada on the resolution were included in a footnote. The British government is now claiming that it never questioned the inviolability of the Ecuadorian mission in their country.


Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, was quick in welcoming the change in the attitude of the British government and is no longer demanding a “public apology” from London for its earlier threat of entering the embassy to arrest Assange. Speaking to the media in Ecuador on August 25, a day after the OAS meet, Correa said that his government “considers the diplomatic incident over, after a grave diplomatic error by the British government in which they said that they would enter our embassy.”


During the OAS meeting in Washington, the Ecuadorian foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, had strongly criticised Britain for what he described as “an assault on our sovereignty.” The Venezuelan foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, said at the OAS meeting that the August 15 communiqué from the British foreign office had stated that there were legal grounds on which the UK government could revoke the diplomatic status of the Ecuadorian embassy in order to arrest Assange on its premises. He said that “it was not only a threat, but a blunt threat.” The majority of OAS members had wanted a tougher resolution criticising Britain for threatening the inviolability of diplomatic missions to be adopted. The consensus resolution which was finally passed reiterated “the obligation of all states not to invoke provisions of their domestic law to justify non compliance with their international obligations.”




The British permanent observer to the OAS, while insisting that there was no threat made against the embassy of Ecuador requested for the resumption of talks on the issue. However, Britain continues to steadfastly refuse to grant “safe passage” for Assange out of the country. President Correa responded by saying that the “window of dialogue was never closed.” At the same time, he said that his government would continue to insist that Assange will not be deported “to a third country” when he goes to Sweden to face the criminal charges. The Ecuadorian government has said that a written undertaking from Britain and Sweden that Assange would not be extradited to a third country was enough for the Wikileaks founder to hand himself over to the British police. A former Stockholm chief public prosecutor, Sven Erik Alhem, was of the view that the decision of the Swedish government to extradite Assange is “unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate,” because he could have been questioned in the UK without any problems.


Assange and his legal team have been insisting that the frivolous criminal charges against him are only a pretext to get him extradited to the US to face charges relating to the leaking of hundreds of thousands of confidential State Department and Pentagon documents. Leaked documents from Stratfor, a thinktank specialising in security matters   which has close ties to the US security establishment, indicated that the Obama administration had set up a “secret grand jury” to try Assange on various charges, including that of high treason. If repatriated to the US, Assange will most likely spend the rest of his life incarcerated in a top security American prison.


Two women with whom he had consensual sex are the complainants into the case. A Swedish prosecutor had investigated the case and dismissed the case. But the case was mysteriously resurrected by another prosecutor, who promptly issued an extradition order for Assange. Assange has made it clear that he is available for questioning by the Swedish police in London or via Skype. The Swedish authorities have chosen to ignore the offer and are insisting that Assange be physically present on Swedish soil. In the third week of September, the Ecuadorian government proposed that Assange could be transferred to their embassy in Stockholm where he could be duly questioned by the Swedish authorities. Both the British and Swedish governments have refused to react to the offer so far. Assange recently said that he expected to be holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for up to two years, before his problem is resolved.


Both Britain and Sweden have on many occasions’ extradited people for questioning to the US, where they faced the risk of torture. The US government today has powers to keep a suspect in jail for indefinite periods and to assassinate their own citizens if they are suspected of having terror links. There are also double standards involved. Britain had refused to extradite the late Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, to Spain. Instead, London chose to let him go free despite serious charges of mass torture and rape being levelled against him by relatives of the thousands of people killed during his brutal dictatorship.




The regional grouping ALBA (The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), consisting of countries like Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba, issued a statement in mid-August declaring that the British prime minister, David Cameron’s “attitude is another belligerent stance in addition to the treatment of the UK government on the case of the Falklands islands and shows the lack of concern for relations with Latin America and the Caribbean.” At the ALBA meeting convened at the request of Ecuador, President Hugo Chavez said that “Latin America has to be respected, our people must be respected but only united can we earn that respect.” Recent events have shown that the region is solidly behind Ecuador as it fights to protect its sovereignty.


The Union of South American States (UNASUR) has also taken a united stand on the issue. At a meeting held in the third week of August in the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil, the foreign ministers of the 12 member grouping, issued a strongly worded resolution supporting Ecuador’s right to grant Julian Assange asylum and condemning British threats to raid the embassy of a sovereign nation. The resolution reiterated the “inviolability of embassies” and the Vienna Convention, stating that international laws cannot be overridden by domestic laws. The Ecuadorian foreign minister speaking to the media after the UNASUR meet, said that though the UK was a much more powerful country, Ecuador a small country was occupying the high moral ground. “Reason does not call for force,” Patino stated, “The force may be as different and as distant as a small country and a country which has atomic bombs. But here, reason is with us.”


Robert Naiman, policy director of “Just Foreign Policy,” a US based thinktank, wrote recently that protecting Assange’s civil liberties were crucial “because it was a test case for all future whistleblowers.” He went on to add that it was also crucial to protect and sustain Wikileaks for exactly the same reasons. He emphasised that the US and its allies were trying to set a precedent of successful intimidation to deter future whistleblowers. “We cannot allow the precedent to stand,” wrote Naiman.