By Stuart Rees
Ecuador should be congratulated on it’s brave and principled stand in giving asylum to Julian Assange.
The far larger governments, of the UK, Sweden and the USA should be castigated for their refusal to guarantee any safe passage for Julian Assange if he was extradited to Sweden.
At this point I’ll give the government of Australia the benefit of the doubt over their attitude to the Ecuadorian decision but we should ask whether they will find the courage to insist that the human rights of vulnerable people should override the potentially bullying power of large governments? Here is a chance to break with years of unquestioning alliance with mother and father.
It is actually a mistake to say ‘potentially’ because large governments have a tradition of doing what they like irrespective of the rules of international law. US politicians’ violent reactions to the Wikileaks / Assange revelations about the US military’s murder of civilians in Iraq, show how great is a powerful country’s desire for revenge when their secrecy and illegalities are challenged. The bullying behaviour of the UK government in threatening to invade the Ecuadorian Embassy to arrest Mr. Assange is merely the latest example of a powerful country believing that it can do what it likes despite it’s associated pious utterances about respect for the law. To add insult to injury, the government of Sweden then calls in the Ecuadorian Ambassador to reprimand his government for being such an outspoken defender of human rights.
Bullying as a form of diplomacy ? When will they ever learn ?
For centuries, governments have behaved as though they needed to maintain secrecy and should prosecute anyone – Daniel Defoe, Tom Paine, Daniel Ellsberg, Bradley Manning,Julian Assange – who challenges their use of force to get their way. For centuries governments have insisted that the practice of government was so mysterious that members of the general public could not possibly understand.
The government of Ecuador has shared their understanding.The elegant, philsosophically and legally sophisticated arguments of the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister have shown a world wide public which range of statutes and treaties in international law helped his government to decide to give asylum to Assange. The world does understand, even if politicians do not or continue to wish that decisions had been kept secret, that the Ecuadorians had not shared their beliefs and their values with the rest of us.
Cowardice as well as courage has entered the Assange/UK/Sweden equation. Three powerful governments -UK, Sweden and the USA refused to give assurances about Assange’s safety if he was extradited to Sweden to be interviewed (not charged) with alleged sexual offense. The smell of collusion between such governments wafts across the oceans and through the Internet.
In the above comments, it should be obvious that the notion of Justice depends on a combination of historical, social and political precedents and calculations. Such precedents – such as a love of secrecy and brute force to ‘solve’ problems merit as much consideration as the views of those lawyers who love to have 50 cents each way on the question of justice:
‘yes the UK and the USA could ignore sovereign territory, no perhaps they should not.’ Please, no more quibbling from lawyers who in the last few hours have suggested that the UK’s threats to invade could be legitimate despite the protests of the ‘fanatics’ who are Assange supporters.
The issue of justice is the property of everyone. Every citizen has a right to stand up for universal human rights and to support the years of ground breaking revelations by WikiLeaks. Such commentary and advocacy is not the preserve of politicians and their legal advisers. If we allow that secret, privileged and often destructive preserve and practice to be maintained, nothing will have been learned from the Ecuadorians’ brave and principled stand.
First published on Monday, 20 August 2012: ON LINE opinion - Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate.
Stuart Rees is Professor Emeritus of the University of Sydney and Chair of the Sydney Peace Foundation. He is the former Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation (1998-2011) and of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (1988-2008), and a Professor of Social Work (1978-2000) at the University of Sydney.
P.S. Julian Assange first public statement since entering Ecuador’s London embassy on 19th August followed by statements of support from around the world: