Aren't embassies inviolate under international law?

This is in reference to Julian Assange taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. I quote from this story on Reuters:

I remember when a policewoman was shot and killed by a Libyan from the windows of the Libyan Embassy in London in the 60s the police were powerless to enter and search for the shooter and had to stand by and watch while everyone in the place drove off and flew back to Libya. So has UK law changed since then? Or international law? Would things be the same in the US, ie could they forcibly enter an embassy and arrest somebody?

When Manuel Noriega hid out in the Vatican nunciature, US troops didn’t storm the place. They did blast it with loudspeakers for several days and put diplomatic pressure on the Vatican to give Noriega up.

A Ukranian diplomat in New York City, who’d killed a girl in a hit-and-run, likewise found limitations to the “inviolate” thing. It isn’t absolute.

I am guessing that the actual, realpolitik attitude of the UK is “International law be damned, we are not going to let a 3rd world cesspool like Ecuador bitch-punk us in front of the entire friggin’ world, especially right in our own bloody living room.”

Frankly, no one that matters is going to do anything (besides maybe a bit of symbolic, sympathetic lip-service, if that much. Russia isn’t going to cut diplomatic ties over a horny Australian albino) to support Ecuador over England.

Everyone knows that Ecuadorian cocaine flat-out sucks, and llama meat is stringy…

The week’s notice is the “inviolate” part. Under the treaty, the British can’t just storm the embassy. The Ecuadorans (Ecaudorians? Ecuadorites?) get fair warning to get their staff out of there, burn all their secret documents, etc.

Think of it this way. An ambassador has diplomatic immunity, but a country can declare the ambassador persona non grata and order him out of the country.

I went googling for this because it sounded a little to wild to be true to me. Turns out I was right. It wasn’t the 60’s, it was the 80’s. :wink:

International law isn’t generally enforced by a police force as you might have under domestic law. This basically means if a State decides to act in contravention of the law their primary consideration will be how the rest of the international community will react.

With this sort of issue, I don’t even believe there is an “international standard” on embassies, instead the specifics are probably typically worked out through negotiated agreements between host country and the embassy’s country.

Generally if you mistreat diplomatic staff that is going to be gravely offensive and widely condemned. However if you have two countries whose relationship so deteriorates that a host country says “get your embassy staff out of our country and do not return” that is not in and of itself contrary to international law. The United States did that with representatives of Japan and Germany at the outbreak of WWII. This is seen as internationally acceptable…it isn’t generally against any norms of international law to have a breakdown in diplomatic relations. Now, you’d be expected to evict the diplomatic staff but to insure their physical safety until they were out of the country.

What happens to a person who has fled from your domestic police and is hiding in the embassy under a grant of asylum is a different matter and I think somewhat murky. I think if the UK has an agreement with Ecuador in place that says for example they can take into custody British fugitives flying out in Ecuadorean helicopters or riding out in Ecuadorean cars…then the Brits would be totally within their power to scoop Assange up. The UN has regulations on not violating asylum generally…but explicitly states asylum granted to people who are subject to normal, non-political prosecutions aren’t “protected” asylums under the UN charter. From what I’ve read on the BBC the London police have said they have authority to stop any cars or aircraft leaving the embassy.

Also, in the vein of international relations primarily being concerned with how other parties react…the Libyans in 84 had 18 British embassy staff surrounded in Libya during the aforementioned incident…which probably better explains the British response than international law.

Not so - there is the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which governs the status of embassies, amongst other issues. It is one of the treaties which has the greatest number of countries signing on; only a handful have not ratified the treaty. The UK has ratified it.


Sorry to sidetrack but is that a special edition of Wikipedia for mobile devices? I’ve never seen this page layout before.

You can get the regular version by removing the “m.” from the URL.

Must be - I’m posting from my iPhone and that’s how it shows up.

The problem is that few people realize that an ‘International Convention’ is not an ‘International Law’ - in fact it is a bit dubious whether an ‘International Law’ exists.

IMO the 1987 Act that allows the UK Govt to rampage around on Embassy territory is :-
a) Stupid
b) Asking for retalliation
c) Should be repealed ASAP

As for Assange, we should ship him somewhere outside the reach of the USA

  • demonstrably Sweden does not fit the bill

What if the equadorians decided to storm the British embassy in Equador in retaliation?

Yes, that’s my understanding from UK media reports. The UK aren’t talking about violating an embassy :- they’re saying they have the right to give the Ecuadorians reasonable notice that that particular building can’t be an embassy anymore.

I was about to start a GQ thread asking about this:- it occured to me, in the context of the Assange affair, that the country hosting an embassy has to have the right to require it to be moved. What if the particular building needed to be demolished for a road-widening scheme ? .

Why do you think so?

Do we even know he is still in the building? A wise man would establish his presence and then vacate to somewhere else.

He gave an interview when he had been there for a few weeks, but yes I don’t believe he’s been spotted for quite a while. Apparently there’s been a continuous police watch on the embassy since he claimed Asylum there so it’s unlikely he snuck out.

This article has more info on the law the UK is threatening to invoke:

"The law gives Britain the power to revoke the status of a diplomatic mission if the state in question “ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post” — but only if such a move is “permissible under international law.”

and apparently a bunch of legal opinions are stating that it’s not permissible in this circumstance.

If we’re talking about the UK possibly violating the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, then we should also consider that Ecuador may have already violated the convention - in particular, Article 41 which imposes on diplomats a “duty not to interfere in the internal affairs” of the host nation (where enforcing bail conditions is surely an internal affair) and prohibits using the embassy premises “in a manner incompatible with the functions of the mission”.

Thanks, I wasn’t aware of that. It’s interesting none of the provisions seem to cover the situations in which one nation expels an entire diplomatic staff and revokes the right of the embassy to be on their soil. Yet we know that has happened many times when nations have diplomatic relations formally end because of a “serious dispute” For example on April 7th, 1980 we formally broke diplomatic relations with Iran, and have dealt with them through intermediaries ever since. Often the Swiss represent our interest in Iran, and the Iranians have a division of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington that represents their interests in the United States.

I don’t know for sure but I’m assuming we at one time had Iraqi and Serbian Embassies in Washington, I wonder if they stayed open during Saddam / Milosevic’s reigns…

The provisions also don’t seem to cover the “week’s notice to enter” that the London police were talking about. So I would presume that means Ecuador and the United Kingdom have an agreement in which both parties consent to abridging some of their normal privileges under that provision (or otherwise the London police are lying to the press about their authority.)

Well, I’m sure espionage is a big no-no in Embassies but we all know any major embassy around the world has intelligence staff masquerading as diplomatic staff so it isn’t like nation’s don’t violate the rules. It’s more a question of what sort of response you expect.

Like when we caught all those Russian spies in America, both America and Russia didn’t want to have this major beef between each other. So none of the spies were charged with espionage in the States, and they were exchanged for someone who did spying for us over in Russia.

I don’t really understand Assange’s concerns to be honest. I’m not an expert on Swedish law or society but they seem like one of the last nations I could imagine just randomly extraditing someone to the United States. If I had to bet, I suspect Assange’s charges will amount to nothing in Sweden, but since he ran away instead of appearing in court the issue is still legally pending. Based on what I’ve read of the incidents I just doubt it results in a conviction or anything in Sweden, and I doubt Sweden would just willy-nilly extradite him to the United States.

Sweden is one of the most liberal countries in the world with one of the most lenient criminal justice systems, I just really don’t see it.

Further, as several legal experts have said in the news, if the U.K. extradites Assange to Sweden, then apparently Sweden has to get approval from the U.K. to extradite Assange to the U.S., so legally it doesn’t even appear that being in Sweden is any legally different than being in the U.K.

For that matter you would be hard pressed to find another country as willing to do stuff for the United States than the U.K., and they never extradited Assange to the U.S. I think the fears of Assange being extradited to the U.S. are simply overblown.

How the heck is Assange sleeping, eating, using the toilet and bathing in the embassy? A lot of people think of a self sufficient compound when they hear embassy, but that is rare and most countries especially smaller ones without much business are little more than office suites or a few desks.