Figure 1 A representative of the Ecuadorian Embassy speaking to the International Court of Justice
Julian Assange’s days of aimless waiting in the Ecuadorian embassy in London will soon enter a new chapter. The International Court of Justice has been reviewing different aspects of Assange’s case and whether he fits the criteria of either political asylum or political refugee status.
They have looked at everything from investigations already completed by the Swedish Police and the Metropolitan Police of London to the extradition treaty between Sweden and the United States.
Assange has been held up in the Ecuadorian Embassy since 2012, when he was granted political asylum by the Ecuadorian government. Assange was accused by Swedish Police of molestation and unlawful coercion. He is also wanted in the United States under accusations of leaking sensitive information via his website WikiLeaks. If he is taken into Swedish custody, he faces extradition to the United States. One of the counts he faces in the United States does carry the penalty of capital punishment.
Justice Dalveer Bhandari questioned the legality of US extradition if Assange were to be put into custody by Swedish officials. He pointed out that under the current US-Sweden extradition treaty does not allow the US to extradite an individual who faces the death penalty. Other justices present also reiterated this fact throughout deliberations.
Figure 1 Justice Dalveer Bhandari
Press access has been limited to the deliberations of the ICJ. However, perhaps the most important piece of information lies outside the verdict that the ICJ comes to. Whether the ICJ rules in favor or against Assange is one thing. It’s how the different countries in play react that is important.
During a press conference, Justice Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade stated that the governments of Sweden and Ecuador have both agreed to hold whatever decision that comes from the court to be legally binding. Trindade also stated that “multiple documents we have used towards our decision have been ratified by the countries in question”, essentially meaning that countries in play should respect the decision of the ICJ.
Now the ICJ isn’t considering the molestations and coercion charges that have been brought up by the Swedish Police, meaning that he still faces arrest even if the ICJ rules in favor of granting him political asylum or political/diplomatic refugee status. He will still be unable to step outside the embassy without facing immediate arrest by Metropolitan police.
Maybe a Trump presidency in the near future will have a profound effect on the case of Julian Assange, as Trump seems to have a more favorable attitude towards the WikiLeaks head and could push for the State Department to drop charges against Assange. For now, an ICJ ruling looks to have the same effect as a previous UN decision in his favor from the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) which wasn’t too much as both the UK and Sweden rejected their decision.
Only if the ICJ ruled against Assange would any major change occur. Ecuador would most likely have to hand Assange over to authorities. But even if that were to happen, it would fall into yet another legal hole that would require further examination, leaving Assange in the same place; stuck in the Ecuadorian Embassy, unable to take one step out the door.