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How to arrest Julian Assange without violating international law

British authorities forcefully entering the Embassy of Ecuador in London where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken refuge would not only be illegal but also set a frightening precedent, putting embassies around the world at risk. Thankfully, Britain has other options.

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It has been mentioned that a helicopter could pick up Assange from the roof of the embassy and fly him straight out of Britain. This option would not work, since the British government controls the relevant airspace and could deny permission for a helicopter to perform such a function, or could force it to land and arrest Assange upon landing, since the helicopter would not have diplomatic immunity. Any attempt by Ecuador to get the helicopter diplomatic status could easily be denied by the British government.

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It has also been mentioned that Assange could be transported out of Britain inside a diplomatic bag, which could come in the form of a crate or a container labeled as a diplomatic bag. Here, Article 27, Paragraph 4 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations clearly states that “the packages constituting the diplomatic bag must bear visible external marks of their character and may contain only diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use.”

Any attempt to transport Assange this way would be a violation of international law, thereby giving the British authorities the right to open up the bag and arrest Assange on the spot.

How about driving a diplomatic vehicle containing Assange onto a car ferry or through the tunnel exiting Britain? Authorities may open the vehicle, including the trunk, and arrest Assange at a border checkpoint, since international law does not allow the use of diplomatic vehicles to engage in human trafficking or smuggling.

Britain continues to have the upper hand on this matter and may arrest Assange without the need to violate international law. The challenge is to make sure that Assange is arrested the moment he leaves diplomatic premises, before he gets a chance to leave the country. It is just a waiting game, even though it may turn out to be a long one.

Kantathi Suphamongkhon is a former foreign minister of Thailand. He is presently a visiting professor of law and diplomacy at the University of California at Los Angeles and a senior fellow at UCLA’s Burkle Center for International Relations.

© 2012 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.


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