On anniversary of UN decision, Assange calls on UK, Sweden to release him

Press Release / 6 February 2017

Today marks one year since the UN announced that Sweden and UK were acting unlawfully by depriving Julian Assange of his liberty since December 7, 2010. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) instructed the UK and Sweden to “ensure the right of free movement of Mr. Assange and accord him an enforceable right to compensation”.

Video of UN announcement:

The UK exhausted all avenues for appeal when the UN announced on November 30, 2016 that it had re-affirmed its original decision.

One year on, neither government has complied with the UN’s findings. They remain in breach of their international obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and  the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) including its Article 7 prohibition against “cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment”.

Julian Assange, the publisher and editor of WikiLeaks, said:

“I call on UK and Sweden to do the right thing and restore my liberty. These two states signed treaties to recognise the UN and its human rights mechanisms. Their governments accepted the jurisdiction of the UNWGAD in my case– the world’s peak legal body for cases of arbitrary detention. At no time in the 16 month process did they withdraw. They lost, appealed and lost again. This refusal to respect the umpire’s decision comes at a terrible cost: other states can now illegally detain Swedish and UK citizens with effective impunity and the UN human rights system more broadly is imperilled. Already their breach has been used to justify human rights abuses from Sri Lanka to the UAE.”

For the last 4.5 years that Mr. Assange has been forced to remain in the embassy of Ecuador by threat of arrest. Ecuador granted him refugee status due to the ongoing US case against him over his publishing work which threatens him with life imprisonment. Although the UK and Sweden are obliged under international law to not extradite individuals with refugee status to the country that persecutes them, they have refused to follow this universally recognised norm when it comes to Mr. Assange and the United States. He has not been charged with an offence in Sweden.

Reactions to the UK’s failure to implement the decision without delay:

•  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, reprimanded Sweden’s rejection of the UNWGAD’s findings on Assange, telling AFP that “Human rights law, the treaty body law is binding law, it is not discretionary law, it is not some passing fancy that a state can apply sometimes and not in others”.

•  The United Nations Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, issued a statement on 18 January 2017 calling for “this abnormal and inhuman situation to end” and  “urged the UK and Swedish Governments to strengthen the human rights system by giving effect” to the UNWGAD’s findings and expressed concern that “neither Government has taken steps toward implementation and Mr Assange finds himself a refugee under the diplomatic protection of Ecuador.”  De Zayas also denounced Sweden and UK’s refusal to comply with the UNWGAD’s findings a year ago, writing that, “The international order depends on the consistent and uniform application of international law, and is undermined when States pick and choose. An à la carte approach to human rights erodes the credibility of the entire system. It is important that countries that regularly engage in naming and shaming of other countries accept United Nations rulings when they themselves are implicated. It is a matter of intellectual honesty.”

•  Human Rights Watch denounced “the deplorable rhetorical parries from the UK and Swedish governments” against the UNWGAD following the UN decision. HRW said the governments of Sweden and the UK have “severely damaged their own reputation for being so ready to dismiss upholding inconvenient human rights obligations and their credibility as global advocates for rights by refusing to respect the institution of asylum.” Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth has made similar remarks.•  Numerous lawyers’ associations and human rights organisations have raised the UK’s failure to implement the UNWGAD’s Assange decision before the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process, which assesses the United Kingdom’s compliance with its international human rights obligations over the past five years.

•  States and NGOs have intervened at the UN Human Rights Council sessions  to denounce the UK’s disparaging remarks about the UNWGAD and called for the UK to implement the UN’s decision.

•  500 high profile signatories urged the United Kingdom to comply with the UNWGAD Assange decision. The signatories include Nobel Peace Prize laureates and Academy Award winners.

•  Members of the European Parliament urged EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, to take “immediate action and effective measures” in relation to the UK and Sweden for their non-compliance with the UNWGAD’s decision (11 February 2016).

Reactions to the Sweden’s failure to implement the decision without delay:

* The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, reprimanded Sweden’s rejection of the UNWGAD’s findings on Assange, telling AFP that “Human rights law, the treaty body law is binding law, it is not discretionary law, it is not some passing fancy that a state can apply sometimes and not in others”.

• The United Nations Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, issued a statement on 18 January 2017 calling for “this abnormal and inhuman situation to end” and  “urged the UK and Swedish Governments to strengthen the human rights system by giving effect” to the UNWGAD’s findings and expressed concern that “neither Government has taken steps toward implementation and Mr Assange finds himself a refugee under the diplomatic protection of Ecuador.”  De Zayas also denounced Sweden and UK’s refusal to comply with the UNWGAD’s findings a year ago, writing that, “The international order depends on the consistent and uniform application of international law, and is undermined when States pick and choose. An à la carte approach to human rights erodes the credibility of the entire system.” “It is important that countries that regularly engage in naming and shaming of other countries accept United Nations rulings when they themselves are implicated. It is a matter of intellectual honesty.”

•  Human Rights Watch denounced “the deplorable rhetorical parries from the UK and Swedish governments” against the UNWGAD following the UN decision. HRW said the governments of Sweden and the UK have “severely damaged their own reputation for being so ready to dismiss upholding inconvenient human rights obligations and their credibility as global advocates for rights by refuging to respect the institution of asylum.” Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth has made similar remarks.•   States and NGOs have intervened at the UN Human Rights Council sessions  to denounce the UK’s disparaging remarks about the UNWGAD and called for the UK to implement the UN’s decision.

* 500 high profile signatories urged Sweden to comply with the UNWGAD Assange decision. The signatories include Nobel Peace Prize laureates and Academy Award winners.

•  Members of the European Parliament urged EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, to take “immediate action and effective measures” in relation to the UK and Sweden for their non-compliance with the UNWGAD’s decision (11 February 2016).•   Almost 60 international organisations denounced Sweden’s abusive treatment of Assange at Sweden’s Universal Periodic Review in 2014, for the same reasons that the UNWGAD subsequently found he was unlawfully detained.

How did the United Kingdom react to the UNWGAD’s decision?

The UK adopted a dual strategy in response to the UNWGAD’s decision.

Publicly, the UK vociferously rejected the UN’s findings and attempted to diminish the credibility of the Working Group. It attempted to do so for example by claiming, falsely, that the UN experts were “laypersons” who didn’t understand the law. The UK also claimed that the UN decision was “not binding” (the UN says it is). Certain elements of the UK media uncritically repeated the UK’s position, without reporting the position of the UN:

“The binding nature of [UNWGAD] opinions derives from the collaboration by States in the procedure [UK and Sweden acknowledged the authority of the WGAD by participating in the process and submitting their arguments to the body], the adversarial nature of its findings [the WGAD receives arguments from both sides to the dispute] and also the authority given to the WGAD by the UN Human Rights Council. The Opinions of the WGAD are also considered as authoritative by prominent international and regional judicial institutions, including the European Court of Human Rights.”Quietly however, the UK filed an appeal to submit additional arguments that it hoped would persuade the UNWGAD to reverse its decision on Assange’s unlawful detention. On 29 November 2016 the UN rejected the UK’s application. The UN’s decision on Assange’s arbitrary detention therefore stands.

The UK and Sweden were given two weeks’ advance notice of the Assange decision prior to the UNWGAD’s 5th of February announcement of its decision. This head start allowed the UK to coordinate its public relations strategy with Sweden head of the announcement of their defeat, as documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show.

How did Sweden react to the UNWGAD decision?

Unlike the United Kingdom, the Swedish government did not attempt to reverse the UNWGAD’s decision, and thus accepted it in practice.

Like the UK, Sweden claims that the UNWGAD’s decision is “not binding”.

The UN’s position is that the decision is binding, and issued guidance to editors explaining why: “The binding nature of [UNWGAD] opinions derives from the collaboration by States in the procedure [UK and Sweden acknowledged the authority of the WGAD by participating in the process and submitting their arguments to the body], the adversarial nature of its findings [the WGAD receives arguments from both sides to the dispute] and also the authority given to the WGAD by the UN Human Rights Council. The Opinions of the WGAD are also considered as authoritative by prominent international and regional judicial institutions, including the European Court of Human Rights.”

The UN Human Rights Committee, the body that monitors compliance with the ICCPR (which Sweden was found to be in violation of by the UNWGAD in relation to Assange), raised the Assange case repeatedly during its closed session with Swedish officials in March 2016. The Swedish government has used the separation of powers as a pretext for why Sweden has failed to implement the UNWGAD’s decision. The Human Rights Committee responded that Sweden’s explanations as to why it was failing to comply with the UNWGAD’s decision on Assange were
unsatisfactory“.

The Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, whose reprehensible management of the “preliminary investigation” has resulted in Sweden being in breach of its international legal obligations according to the UNWGAD’s findings, told the Swedish courts that “there is no obligation for Sweden to follow the opinion of the Working Group and that Julian Assange’s state of health and living conditions at the Embassy shall not be given any importance”.

The UK and Sweden were given two weeks’ advance notice of the Assange decision prior to the UNWGAD’s 5th of February announcement of its decision in Assange. This head start allowed the UK to coordinate its public relations strategy with Sweden ahead of the announcement of their defeat, as documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show.

Julian Assange’s UN legal team:

Melinda Taylor (english-Hague): +31 611566009 email: [email protected]
Jennifer Robinson (english-UK/Australia): email: [email protected]
Baltasar Garzon (spanish-Spain): +34 645209998 +34 616039340 +34
914343445 http://www.ilocad.info/
Christophe Marchand (french/english-Belgium): +32486322288 email:
[email protected]
Per E Samuelson (Swedish/english-Sweden) email: [email protected]http://ssw.se

 

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