BOGOTA -- Ecuador sought to enlist the support of the Organization of American States on Friday amid its standoff with the United Kingdom over the fate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
During an emergency meeting in Washington, Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño asked OAS members to condemn Britain’s “threat” to arrest Assange inside Ecuador’s London embassy, where the controversial free-speech advocate has been holed up for more than two months and was granted diplomatic asylum last week.
The OAS eventually approved a watered down version that highlighted the sovereignty of embassies but made no mention of the UK threat and steered clear of producing the broader condemnation Ecuador sought.
Member nations also urged Ecuador and the United Kingdom to find a diplomatic solution to the impasse. What appears clear is that Assange, who faces extradition to Sweden on allegations of sexual misconduct, may be trapped in the embassy for weeks, if not longer.
Britain’s permanent observer to the OAS Philip Barton said the United Kingdom posed no threat to Ecuador’s sovereignty and was committed to finding a diplomatic solution. But he reiterated his government’s position that Assange will be arrested if he steps outside the embassy. He also said the UK was not a party to the 1954 Caracas Convention that established diplomatic asylum and that the United Kingdom has “no legal basis” to grant Assange safe passage to Ecuador.
Assange’s troubles began in 2010, when the UK detained him for questioning in Sweden. The allegations came soon after WikiLeaks began releasing millions of secret and classified U.S. diplomatic cables. Assange has maintained that the accusations are trumped up and that the country will ultimately extradite him to the United States where he fears he might face human rights abuses, or even the death sentence, on espionage charges.
The United States has not leveled charges against Assange and no extradition request is known to exist, but legal experts say that would not bar the country from doing so in the future. Sweden’s laws also prohibit it from extraditing suspects if they might face capital punishment.
On Friday, Barton said the case was strictly about Assange’s attempts to avoid the law after he lost two extradition appeals.
“Only once [Assange] had exhausted the recourses of our legal system did he violate the conditions of our bail and proceed to the Ecuadoran embassy,” he said. “He is a fugitive from justice.”