Can Ecuador legally get Assange out of London ?

(Now there’s a question I wouldn’t have imagined asking this time yesterday).

For those who haven’t heard about it, this is in connection with Julian Assange’s decision last night to enter Ecuador’s London embassy and seek asylum.

He’s currently still holed up in there. The British police have said he’s violated his bail terms and he will be arrested if he leaves the embassy.

My question is about what happens if Ecuador decides to grant him asylum. He still has the problem he’s stuck in what is effectively a fairly small office suite in London.

If Ecuador decides to issue him a diplomatic passport,so he can travel to an airport and get on a flight, is there any mechanism the British can use to avoid having to honour his hypothetical “diplomatic” status ? Any other approach the Ecuadorians could use to allow him to safely leave ?

He can’t be arrested without violating Ecuadorean sovereignty assuming they grant him asylum. Of course, the UK can always “convince” the Ecuadoreans to give him up, but I assume that’s not what you mean.

I don’t think they have any way to grant him diplomatic immunity, he is not even an Ecuadorian citizen, not a member of the embassy staff, and is not employed by Ecuador government. I mean, sure, they can say they grant him immunity, but Great Britain would have no obligation to recognize it.

He can’t be arrested in the embassy without violating sovereignty. But the minute he steps foot on the pavement outside it he can be. I doubt his long term plan is to live out his life in the embassy, hence my question as to whether there’s any way to secure him safe passage from the embassy to Ecuador.

What a bizarre move, is there any political reason I’m missing why Ecuador would want to enter into this mess or did he just pick a country at random?

The news here last night reported that Ecuador was “consulting” with the governments of the UK, Sweden, and the US. That suggests that Ecuador isn’t planning on granting him protection from the British police when the time comes to leave the embassy. They’ll either turn him over or have cleared a safe path through diplomatic channels.

As far as the hypothetical, I don’t know why they couldn’t distract the police out front while sneaking him out another exit to a waiting jet. I don’t think he’s enough of a coup to risk it, though; I can’t see the British announcing he’ll be moved to Lima or Quito for access to the doctors there, like the recent Chinese high-profile defection.

See here :-

It may not be that bizarre. And if that article is right, there’s at least a chance Ecuador will award him asylum.

No, they can’t. Once he is granted political asylum he is effectively immune from arrest, even on British soil, as long as he is “in transit”.


I have seen something published in Yahoo news right now. Apparently the British police thinks that, in any case, they can arrest him:

<<[Assange] has breached one of his bail conditions which was to be at his bail address between 10pm and 8am every day … He is subject to arrest under the Bail Act," said a spokesman for London’s Metropolitan Police.>>

(link: )

In that link it also says that the people who posted bail for Assange (including, apparently, quite a few celebrities) are set to lose it, to the tune of UKP 240,000 in total. Another quote, from the same link:

<<Asked via Twitter by Britain’s Guardian newspaper whether she was on the hook, socialite Jemima Khan tweeted back: “Yes. I had expected him to face the allegations. I am as surprised as anyone by this.” Khan declined to say how much she had paid.>>

Oh well. Although it seems that Ecuadorian president Correa sympathises quite a bit with Assange, it remains to be seen whether they think that it is worth pissing off the US, especially with an important preferential trade agreement with the US coming up for revision in January.

Just my 2 eurocent!

The provisions of the OAS asylum convention have largely attained the status of jus cogens, meaning they are essentially binding international law. In pertinent part:

The United Kingdom doesn’t appear on the list of countries that have ratified the treaty:

Great Britain is not a signatory.

That’s because the United Kingdom is not a member of the Organization of American States and not eligible to ratify it.

Without wanting to get into a long spiel about international law, states do not necessarily have to be signatories to treaties to be bound by them. When enough states sign up, or state practice reflects that states abide by the treaty regardless of ratification, or some other things, a treaty (or an individual provision) of the treaty may attain the status of jus cogens or a peremptory norm - meaning that it’s a binding rule of international law because everyone says so.

By way of example, India is not a party to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, so it was okay for it to test a nuclear device in 1998. Except it wasn’t, because the rule about not exploding thermonuclear devices is now a peremptory norm, so lots of countries imposed economic sanctions.

Most of the provisions of the Convention on Asylum, like the CNTBT, are now normative, including the safe conduct bit.

Um, no, it is not “binding” on Great Britain unless Great Britain says it is.

Well, I suppose I’ll have to bow to that thorough legal analysis.

It is a fact that unless the country considers some norm or law binding on itself, it isn’t binding. The only way to make a country do something it isn’t willing to do (see the “not binding” above) is some kind of international pressure, such as sanctions, embargo, etc.

So, unless you can show that the law you cited is considered binding by Great Britain, or that there are any sanctions expected if it doesn’t follow that law, the guy is outta luck.

This article, written by a Professor of International Law at the University of Luxembourg,

strongly implies that the OAS Asylum Convention has no relevance in the UK.

The nature of international law is that no central enforcement authority exists. The only thing which ensures compliance is pressure from other states. Even if Britain was a signatory to the treaty, it would be free to arrest Assange. Only international opprobrium- probable- or sanctions- unlikely- will prevent it.

ETA: the Happold article is a better source, of course, though I still don’t think the UK will unilaterally arrest him.

Well, your comments do not necessarily reflect the common understanding of international law which is in wide and general practice for many generations.

RNATB is correct: there are certain aspects of international law that are considered so fundamental and widely practiced that a country can be found to have violated those norms even if the country is not a member to a treaty on that matter. For example, it is a universally accepted proposition among the international community that a country could be held to account for violating international law if it engages in genocide or slavery, even if it hasn’t signed any treaties to that effect.

Now, I am not clear if there is such a norm with respect to asylum seekers getting safe passage through a country. I am somewhat skeptical that there is, but I don’t know for sure. I am even more doubtful that Ecuador could simply declare that a person is now a diplomat and get him safe passage that way, as diplomatic immunity for a person is a matter that the receiving state has to agree to in advance. Embassies can’t willy-nilly declare random people to be diplomats in order to create headaches for host countries.