International Court of Justice- 01/07/2017
Facing two charges of sexual assault, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange may be extradited to Sweden to stand trial. A tribunal has convened in the International Court of Justice to determine the validity of Assange’s asylee status, and whether extraditing him could put him at risk for seizure by the U.S to stand trial for espionage – charges which could carry the death penalty.
Assange rose to fame in 2010, when his organization released footage of U.S soldiers murdering several unarmed civilians in Iraq. Assange’s role in international politics and cybersecurity have been divisive, drawing both praise and criticism for his role as a whistleblower.
In 2010 Sweden issued a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) for Assange, charging him with rape and sexual assault. Concerns over Assange’s potential extradition to the U.S from Sweden were brought before the UK’s Supreme Court, allowing Assange to seek refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy.
Ecuador has defended its decision to shelter Assange as a refugee and political asylee, though the majority the ICJ is determined to undermine Assange’s claim to refugee status. An advocate for the United Kingdom stated that there was “no reasoning” in Ecuador’s claim, as Assange did not qualify as a refugee or as a member of the Ecuadorian diplomatic mission. Ecuador also cited concerns that Sweden may put Assange in danger by sending him to the U.S to face charges. The U.S has not currently made any claims on Assange, and Sweden has denied any plans to hand him off.
While the purpose of the court was not to determine the guilt or innocence of Julian Assange in the matter of the alleged assaults, several justices made their opinions quite clear. Leaning in favor of extradition, Justice Owada said that it was “very possible that Assange has committed a serious crime”. Justice Crawford echoed this opinion, stating “I feel that there is reason to believe he may have committed it”.