Narayan Lakshman - Washington, August 18, 2012
The Organisation of American States, an apex hemispherical body for the Americas, said a meeting of its Foreign Ministers next Friday would focus on the diplomatic row between Ecuador and the U.K. over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (41), who was granted political asylum by Quito while holed up in the country’s London embassy.
The outcome of the OAS meet might embarrass both the U.K. and the U.S., especially since Washington DC will be the venue of the discussion. However, the U.S. State Department has thus far refrained from interjecting itself into the controversy brewing in London’s posh Knightsbridge locale.
Even though the Obama administration appeared to be caught off guard by WikiLeaks’ publication of a massive trove of confidential State Department cables and has arrested and is prosecuting an army intelligence personnel, Bradley Manning, for the leak, the State Department issued a cautious statement on the OAS proposal and Ecuador’s position.
In a press release on Friday, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Washington “is not a party to the 1954 OAS Convention on Diplomatic Asylum and does not recognise the concept of diplomatic asylum as a matter of international law.” She added that the U.S. believed this was a bilateral issue between Ecuador and the UK and that “the OAS has no role to play in this matter.”
This statement notwithstanding the OAS call for discussion on the mounting police presence around the Ecuador embassy noted that the group would “address the situation between Ecuador and the UK... regarding the inviolability of the diplomatic premises of Ecuador in the UK... in accordance with international law, and... agree on appropriate measures to be adopted.”
According to reports 23 OAS members voted for the resolution proposed by Ecuador to convene the meeting at its Washington headquarters, while the U.S., Canada and Trinidad and Tobago voted nay.
After the vote U.S. envoy to the OAS, Carmen Lomellin, reportedly said that a meeting of the Foreign Ministers “would be unhelpful and harmful to the OAS’ reputation as an institution”, underscoring Ms. Nuland’s message that the U.S. did not recognise the concept of diplomatic asylum as a matter of international law.
Mr. Assange, who sought refuge in the Ecuador embassy on June 19, was granted asylum by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa last week. Ecuador’s action was said to be motivated by concern for Mr. Assange’s life and liberty after it became clear that he faced the prospect of extradition to Sweden, where he faces sexual assault charges.
He also risks being subsequently re-extradited to the U.S., and in such a scenario Mr. Assange may be charged with treason and handed the death penalty, legal experts have argued.