February 9, 2016
UN Accuses UK of Arbitrary Detention Without Trial

In another fearless ruling, the UN Human Rights Commission  Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has found the UK and Sweden guilty of arbitrary detention in the case of Julian Assange, the founder of the whistleblowing website Wikileaks. Mr Assange has been in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for the past 3 years, with British police waiting outside the premises to arrest him, after having been granted political asylum by the Ecuadorean government. He is wanted for questioning by Swedish authorities in connection with allegations made against him there of rape. He has denied these allegations and has claimed that they are in fact a cover to enable him to be extradited to the United States where he is wanted by the national security authorities in connection with various secret US documents he has published on his Wikileaks website. The allegations of rape were made after Mr Assange started publishing the confidential material.

Julian AssangeThe UN WGAD on Friday 5th February published its findings accepting Mr Assange's version of events in key areas: that he is unreasonably being held in arbitrary, prolonged and indefinite detention and that the Swedish authorities have been disproportionately rigid with regard to the allegations that he faces in Sweden (The Swedish authorities have not formally charged Mr Assange and have rejected all opportunities to qustion him short of his physical presence in Sweden. They have also refused to rule out his eventual extradition to the US.). The report makes a murky reference to "hundreds of potentially exculpatory SMS messages", to which Mr Assange has been denied access by the Swedish authorities.

Even though the United States of America is barely mentioned, it casts a long shadow over the report. Central to Mr Assange's application for political asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy was the claim that he faced political persecution and cruel and inhuman punishment if he were to be extradited to the United States. While neither accepting nor rejecting this, the report maintains that Mr Assange's fear of persecution in the United States should have been given greater weight in the judicial proceedings. This is not the first time the United Nations Human Rights Commission has severely criticized Western judicial systems. A few years ago we published the findings of the commission in the case of Herman Wallace, one of the so-called Angola 3, that the US was guilty of a systematic and prolonged campaign of torture.

Both the British and Swedish governments have rejected the report's conclusions. Experts have pointed out that Britain, which is often quick to accuse other governments around the world (especially those with which it has poor relations) of human rights abuse is in very poor company in this matter. Cases in which the WGAD has issued negative findings include that of Aung San Suu Kyi, held in detention without trial for years by the Burmese military junta, and Mohammed Morsi, detained by the Egyptian military following its overthrow of his government.

British officials have reacted by trying to discredit the Commission. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was reported to have rejected the findings as "ridiculous" and to have questioned the competence of the commission. These kinds of comments were not heard from Britain when the Commission issued rulings against other governments. In fact the Commission is made up of five experts with a wealth of experience, drawn from countries which might be regarded as favourable to Britain and the West. Viewed from the outside, the process by which the Commission arrived at its conclusions appears eminently fair. The report painstakingly details its methodology, citing extensive communication with the parties concerned and the provisions of relevant international documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which both Britain and Sweden are signatories. Nominally the commissioners are acting in their individual capacities, not as representatives of their country; nevertheless the Australian commissioner recused himself from voting because Mr Assange is an Australian. The Commissioner from Ukraine, a country currently beholden to Britain and the West, disagreed with the majority and issued a separate opinion. The majority, from Benin, Mexico  and South Korea found against Britain and Sweden, and asked the two countries to pay Mr Assange compensation.

The former chairman of WGAD, Norwegian law professor Mads Andenas was quoted in the Guardian of London as saying, "
I’m absolutely convinced that [the panel] has been put under very strong political pressure. This is a courageous decision which is important for the international rule of law. This is a clear, and for people who read it, an obvious, decision... If this finding had been made against any other country with a human rights record that one does not wish to compare oneself with, then these states [Sweden and UK] would have made it clear that the [offending] country should comply with the ruling of the working group."