Detention: Law of

The Arbitrary Detention of Julian Assange?

By Paul Rosenzweig
Saturday, February 6, 2016, 9:27 AM

By now, of course, readers of this blog will be familiar with the fact that a UN Working Group has concluded (by a vote of 3-1, with one abstention) that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, is being arbitrarily detained in the Embassy of Ecuador. Assange considers this decision a significant victory. The opinion of the Working Group, which can be accessed here, concluded that Assange's aribtrary detention was caused by the lack of diligence in the Swedish government's investigation of the underlying charges against him. In the opinion's words:

Having concluded that there was a continuous deprivation of liberty, the Working Group also found that the detention was arbitrary because he was held in isolation during the first stage of detention and because of the lack of diligence by the Swedish Prosecutor in its investigations, which resulted in the lengthy detention of Mr. Assange.

While I am no expert on international law, the contray dissenting opinion (available here) seems to me self-evidently correct. As the opinion says:

It is assumed in the Opinion that Mr. Assange has been detained in the Embassy of Ecuador in London by the authorities of the United Kingdom. In particular, it is stated that his stay in the Embassy constitutes “a state of an arbitrary deprivation of liberty.” . . . In fact, Mr. Assange fled the bail in June 2012 and since then stays at the premises of the Embassy using them as a safe haven to evade arrest. Indeed, fugitives are often self-confined within the places where they evade arrest and detention. This could be some premises, as in Mr. Assange’s situation, or the territory of the State that does not recognise the arrest warrant. However, these territories and premises of self-confinement cannot be considered as places of detention for the purposes of the mandate of the Working Group.

Many British legal observers have only disdain for the Working Group. As reported by The Washington Post: "Joshua Rozenberg, a British legal commentator, wrote that the dissent is "so self-evidently true that it seems hard to believe the majority could have been persuaded otherwise." Carl Gardner, a former government lawyer who blogs on legal issues, wrote that the dissent's] argument is "hard to argue with" and that the majority decision of the panel is "ridiculous."" Indeed, the opinon of the UN WG is so at odds with the facts that even The Guardian (no supporter of the UK government) has editorially opinined that it is unpersuasive. And the UN wonders why it is so routinely held up to American ridicule.