UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said that any suggestion of a risk of breach for Julian Assange’s human rights on extradition to Sweden is completely unfounded and recalled that international, EU and UK law fully address the concerns raised by Assange and by the Government of Ecuador.
The Foreign Secretary underlined the situation in a written statement updating the UK Parliament about developments in the extradition proceeding against Assange, holed in the Ecuadorean embassy, and discussions with Ecuador.
On 20 November 2010, the office of the Swedish Prosecutor-General issued a European Arrest Warrant for the arrest and extradition of Mr Assange, who is alleged to have committed serious sexual offences against two women during a visit to Sweden in August 2010.
Pursuant to the European Arrest Warrant, police officers arrested Mr Assange on 7 December 2010, who was at that time living in the United Kingdom.
On 24 February 2011, a District Judge ruled that Mr Assange should be extradited to face proceedings in Sweden concerning allegations of sexual offences. Mr Assange appealed against the ruling, but on 2 November 2011 two judges at the High Court upheld the decision to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden. Mr Assange appealed again, but the Supreme Court ruled on 30 May 2012 that Mr Assange should be extradited to Sweden.
Following the ruling of the Supreme Court, Mr Assange was given two weeks to seek to reopen the appeal. On 14 June, the Supreme Court dismissed Mr Assange’s bid to reopen his appeal, and conferred a two week grace period before Her Majesty's Government could begin extradition proceedings.
Over this 15-month period, Mr Assange exercised fully his legal right to challenge the extradition procedure, with competent legal representation. Mr Assange took his case through successive independent judicial hearings to the highest court in the United Kingdom and in the process exhausted all options of appeal in the UK.
On 19 June Mr Assange entered the Embassy of Ecuador from where he asked for the protection of the Government of Ecuador. The same day, the Government of Ecuador informed Her Majesty’s Government by Diplomatic Note that it was considering Mr Assange’s request.
Following this, I asked my officials to initiate a formal, regular, dialogue with the Government of Ecuador. This included seven formal discussions as well as many other conversations and written exchanges, in order to seek an acceptable resolution to this situation.
Throughout our exchanges, we have noted that the rights of diplomatic missions conferred by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations come with responsibilities. Article 41 of the Vienna Convention sets out the obligations of diplomatic missions to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State, in this case the United Kingdom. These include the duty not to impede the due legal process of that State.
Furthermore, Her Majesty’s Government has made clear to Ecuador that we recognise that Ecuador and a number of countries in Latin America are party to the Caracas Convention on Diplomatic Asylum of 1954, and that that Convention provides the right, between its state parties, to grant diplomatic asylum in certain circumstances. The United Kingdom is not party to that Convention and there is no legal basis for the United Kingdom to meet the request of the Government of Ecuador to grant safe passage for Mr Assange out of the United Kingdom.
The Government of Ecuador has also sought guarantees regarding the possible onward extradition of Mr Assange to a third country, and has pointed to concerns about possible human rights implications if Mr Assange were to be extradited from the United Kingdom. In our discussions with Ecuador, we have been clear that the safeguards in place under the European Convention on Human Rights, international law, European Union law and United Kingdom law fully address the concerns raised by Mr Assange and by the Government of Ecuador.
The suggestion that there would be a risk of a breach of Mr Assange’s human rights on extradition to Sweden is completely unfounded. An argument to this effect was comprehensively rejected by the courts in the United Kingdom. Both the United Kingdom and Sweden are signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights and the British government has complete confidence in the independence and fairness of the Swedish judicial system. As we have discussed with the Government of Ecuador, the United Kingdom and Sweden robustly implement and adhere to the highest standards of human rights protection.
The suggestion that Mr Assange’s human rights would be put at risk by the possibility of onward extradition from Sweden to a third country is also without foundation. Not only would Sweden – as a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights – be required to refuse extradition in circumstances which would breach his human rights, but the authorities in Sweden would also be legally obliged to seek the United Kingdom’s consent before any extradition to a non-EU member state could proceed. Our consent may only be given in accordance with the international conventions by which the UK is bound, including the European Convention on Human Rights, and also our domestic law. In practice, this means that the United Kingdom could only consent to Mr Assange’s onward extradition from Sweden to a third country if satisfied that extradition would be compatible with his human rights, and that there was no prospect of a death sentence being imposed or carried out.
We have used our discussions with the Government of Ecuador to explain the issues in detail. In the context of widespread speculation that a decision to grant asylum by the Ecuadorean government was imminent, and as part of these exchanges, on 15 August the British Embassy in Quito shared with the Government of Ecuador an informal note, or aide memoire, to set out key points of our position and ensure that the Ecuadorean authorities had a complete understanding of the full legal context. Ecuador reacted to this communication claiming that a reference to the UK’s Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 constituted a threat to its Embassy in London. I have been consistently clear that we are not threatening the Embassy of Ecuador and that we are absolutely committed to the principles of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and always act in accordance with it.
It is a matter of regret that instead of continuing our discussions, the Foreign Minister of Ecuador announced on 16 August that Ecuador had decided to grant diplomatic asylum to Mr Assange. This was confirmed to us in a Diplomatic Note of 16 August.
We wish to continue our dialogue with the Government of Ecuador. We believe that our two countries should be able to find a diplomatic solution. We have invited the Government of Ecuador to resume, as early as possible, the discussions we have held on this matter to date. I confirmed that in a meeting with Ecuador’s Vice President Moreno on 29 August in London, during his visit to the Paralympics.
We continue also to discuss the matter with the Swedish authorities, which retain an interest in the completion of Mr Assange’s extradition proceedings.