World In Review 2012
By Dinouk Colombage
Asylum For Assange: What Are His Options?
By Asad Hashim
Julian Assange, the founder of whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, has been staying at the Ecuadorian embassy to the United Kingdom in London since June 19.
He fled to the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where authorities are seeking him for questioning over allegations that he sexually assaulted two women.
Ecuador announced that it has accepted Assange’s request for political asylum on August 16. Rafael Correa, the Ecuadorian president, had earlier said that key to the process was a review of the extradition process to Sweden, particularly the possibility that Assange may be extradited again from there to the United States.
He has said that the mere possibility that Assange could face capital punishment in the US, based on possible charges of leaking government secrets, could be reason enough for his government to grant the activist’s asylum request.
Assange has not yet been formally charged with any crimes in either Sweden or the United States.
Even though Ecuador has offered the WikiLeaks chief asylum, however, there are logistical difficulties involved in him actually reaching the South American country.
Fleeing to the airport
Even though Assange has the right to political asylum, police in London would be within their rights to arrest him as soon as he leaves the Ecuadorian embassy’s premises and before he reaches a diplomatic vehicle. Once in a diplomatic vehicle, the British police would be entitled under British and international law to stop the vehicle, but they are not authorised to search it.
Even if he were able to make it to the vehicle, the threat of arrest would return when he would have to alight it so that he could board an aircraft bound for Ecuador.
Some are pointing to the case of Yvonne Fletcher in 1984 as a possible precedent for this situation. Fletcher, a British police officer, was shot and killed during a protest outside the Libyan embassy.
The incident led to a 10-day siege of the Libyan embassy by police, which ended with a negotiated settlement whereby all those in the embassy were allowed safe passage to the airport, from whence they left the country.
Designated a diplomat
There has been some speculation that after deciding to grant him asylum, Ecuador could designate Assange a diplomat - possibly as a UN representative - in a bid to allow him to enjoy diplomatic immunity.
The move would not necessarily save Assange from arrest, however. The Metropolitan Police have arrested several diplomats in the past, and, according to the Crown Prosecution Service, “immunity is dependent on rank, and ranges from immunity from criminal and civil and administrative jurisdiction to immunity for official acts only”.
Moreover, the British Foreign Office would have to have accepted the appointment of Assange as fulfilling “a diplomatic function”, according to the CPS.
Using a “Diplomatic Bag”
Embassies are entitled to the use of the so-called “diplomatic bag” to transport documents and other goods in and out of their premises. These bags are deemed “inviolable” under Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961, and, if deemed to be clearly marked as such, cannot be “opened or detained”.
While normally used for transporting confidential documents, diplomatic bags have, over the years, been used to transport a number of unusual cargoes including drugs, weapons and even, reportedly, human beings.
Could Assange be placed in a crate marked as “Diplomatic Correspondence” and transported directly on to an aircraft at the airport? It’s possible, but given that the Vienna Convention decries that diplomatic bags “may contain only diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use”, it is unclear if the UK authorities would respect the section deeming such a crate “inviolable”.
Indefinite stay in Ecuadorian Embassy
The Ecuadorian government has previously stated that it is prepared to offer Assange indefinite leave to remain in their London embassy, under a provision that allows them to provide humanitarian protection.
Such a situation would mean that Assange would be confined to the premises of the embassy, as he has been for more than two months already, indefinitely, or until the circumstances around his case change. It is unclear if even this course of action would succeed, however, as the UKs Foreign Office has issued a statement reminding the Ecuadorian government that they could revoke the consular status of the premises at a weeks notice under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, allowing them to raid it to carry out Assanges arrest.
Ecuador has responded to this threat as saying that any such action would be considered a violation of its sovereignty and a “hostile and intolerable act”.
Courtesy Al Jazeera
Miners Killed At South Africa’s Lonmin Marikana Mine
Police in South Africa have opened fire during clashes with striking workers at the Marikana platinum mine, leaving at least 12 people dead, witnesses say.
Police opened fire after miners carrying machetes, clubs and spears refused to disarm, eyewitnesses said. A witness told the BBC he saw 18 bodies on the ground after the shooting. The mine, owned by Lonmin, has been at the centre of a violent pay dispute, exacerbated by tensions between two rival trade unions. Ten people had previously died in violence since the strike began last Friday. The striking miners had gathered on a rocky hill overlooking Marikana, the third-largest platinum mine in the world. Union leaders and police had tried in vain to disperse the crowd, some of whom said they were prepared to die on the hill. During the clashes, missiles – thought to be either petrol bombs or grenades – were thrown at police, who responded by opening fire, eyewitnesses said.
Reports said a group of miners had approached police lines before the shooting began. One witness, Molaole Montsho, of the South African news agency Sapa, told the BBC – police had first used tear gas in an attempt to disperse the miners.
“The police threatened them with water from the water cannon, fired tear gas and stun grenades. And then in the commotion – we were about 800m (2,600ft) from the scene – we heard gunshots that lasted for about two minutes,” he said. He also said he had counted 18 bodies lying on the ground after the gunfire, but could not tell whether they were dead or alive. ‘Illegal gatherings’ The police ministry acknowledged that there had been deaths, but defended the police’s actions. “To protest is a legal and constitutional right of any citizen,” spokesman Zweli Mnisi told the AFP news agency in a text message. “However, these rights do not imply that people should be barbaric, intimidating and hold illegal gatherings. We had a situation where people who were armed to the teeth attacked and killed other.”
President Jacob Zuma said he was “shocked and dismayed at this senseless violence”. “We call upon the labour movement and business to work with government to arrest the situation before it deteriorates any further,” said Mr Zuma. “I have instructed law enforcement agencies to do everything possible to bring the situation under control and to bring the perpetrators of violence to book.”
The recent violence was initially thought to have been triggered by a turf war between the long-established National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the newly-formed Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which is more militant. However, the AMCU has since demanded a pay rise of 12,000 rand ($1,500; £930) per month. Lonmin said in a statement on Thursday that the strike was illegal and that any striking workers who did not return to work by Friday would be sacked. The company said it had missed six days of production as a result of the unrest, and estimated it would lose around 2% of its normal yearly output of saleable platinum. The company’s share price dropped by more than 6% on Thursday on the London Stock Exchange.
The violence has shocked South Africans, with many finding the scenes reminiscent of how the apartheid regime dealt with protests, the BBC’s Milton Nkosi in Johannesburg reports.
Courtesy BBC News
Andy Coulson And Others To Face Crown Court In September
Andy Coulson, the prime minister’s former director of communications, and five other former News of the World journalists are due to appear at Southwark crown court to face phone hacking charges on 26 September.
The group of six former News of the World journalists, plus the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, were informed of their next court date during a short hearing at Westminster magistrates’ court on Thursday morning. Coulson and Mulcaire sat in a glass dock alongside Stuart Kuttner, the former managing editor of the News of the World; Ian Edmondson, former assistant editor (news); Greg Miskiw, a former news editor; Neville Thurlbeck, former chief reporter; and James Weatherup, former assistant news editor. Each of the journalists, except Mulcaire, were charged in July with conspiring to intercept the voicemail messages of well-known people and their associates between 2000 and 2006.
Daphne Wickham, the deputy chief magistrate, referred the case for the preliminary hearing next month.The seven, who have all vigorously denied the allegations, spoke only to confirm their name, date of birth and address at the magistrates’ court.
They all looked straight ahead as the court clerk read out a detailed charge sheet of allegations against them. Nigel Pilkington, prosecuting, said the case should next be heard by Mr. Justice Fulford at Southwark crown court because it was “linked to other matters effecting some of those here today”. The seven were then bailed with conditions including that they do not contact their co-accused or the former News International chief executive Rebecca Brooks, Neil Wallis, the former News of the World executive editor, or Dan Evans, a former reporter at the now-closed Sunday tabloid. Brooks, Wallis and Evans are also on police bail after being arrested on suspicion of phone hacking.
They are the first people to appear in court on charges relating to phone hacking at the News of the World since Scotland Yard reopened its investigation in January 2011.
Prosecutors said in July that more than 600 people, including the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and actor Jude Law, were victims of voicemail hacking.
Courtesy The Guardian UK