UNITED NATIONS -- Several South American foreign ministers on Monday warned the international community to “grave implications” from the rerouting of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane over Europe last month as the U.S. attempted to extract former CIA contractor Edward Snowden from a Moscow airport.
The ministers, all members of the Mercosur trading bloc, called the actions by European nations an affront to national sovereignty and trust between democracies, a view shared by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who met with the group.
“This is an alert that we are giving with respect to a practice that raises serious concerns worldwide,” said Antonio Patriota, Brazil’s external affairs minister.
“This is unprecedented and raises serious questions about the respect that one should show heads of state and government, in this case a democratically elected head of state from a peaceful region such as ours,” said Patriota, flanked by the foreign ministers of Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay.
Withholding specifics, the ministers said they were still discussing next steps, including whether the matter would be addressed through the U.N. system. The ministers said the international community shouldn’t ignore other issues presented by the Snowden saga.
“It also raises questions with respect to individual rights, human rights, the right to privacy (and) the right to information,” Patriota said. “It is incumbent upon us to take certain initiatives and we will be coordinating to decide exactly how we approach the multilateral system to tackle the different aspects.”
Mercosur’s meeting with Ban comes a few days after Russia granted a one-year asylum to Snowden, the American fugitive accused of divulging U.S. surveillance secrets, ending his five-week stay at a Moscow airport. Snowden’s nearly two-dozen asylum applications included several South American nations, including Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela, all of which agreed to take him. Until last week, Snowden could not clear customs at the Moscow airport because he did not have a visa and the U.S. had revolved his passport.
Last month, representatives of the U.N. missions for Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela took their concerns directly to Ban after Morales’ plane was denied landing rights to refuel in Spain as he flew home from a meeting in Russia. Ban said he shared the officials’ concerns and that similar incidents should be prevented.
“A head of state and his or her aircraft enjoy immunity and inviolability,” Ban said through his spokesperson after the July meeting.
Some European governments have apologized for the incident, citing flawed intelligence placing Snowden on Morales’ plane. But the ministers said Monday that they remain concerned about the incident.
Mercosur leaders said after a summit in Uruguay last month that the actions of “authorities of some European countries” were a violation of international law and a “serious offense” to the Bolivian president and Mercosur.
The ministers and Ban also discussed the U.S.’s Cuba embargo, regional support for Argentina in its Falklands dispute with Great Britain and a continued presence by Mercosur nations in Haiti’s stabilization force.