Embassy Sovereignty is Sovereignty

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary For over 300 years, the grounds of any embassy or consulate have been the sovereign territory of a country that designated place is occupied by. Because of this, no local or national police or military force can enter a consulate or embassy of another country. By and large, most countries have respected this. This long tradition has been further enforced by the Vienna Convention that legally guarantees such protected sovereignty within the grounds of where an embassy or consulate is. Even governments that are not too good at keeping treaties or business agreements will think twice about violating the sovereignty of an embassy. We saw something of this when the blind Chinese lawyer Chen Guangcheng managed to escape his imprisonment and get into the U.S. embassy in Beijing. The Chinese authorities did not dare go any further than the gate of the U.S. embassy. Eventually Chen and his family were allowed to leave China.

It does not matter what the names of the countries and the issues are, the sovereignty of a country that runs an embassy or consulate is sacrosanct. This is why I find the British government’s threats to storm the Ecuadoran embassy in London inexplicable. The reason as is well known is Julian Assange—the founder of Wikileaks and wanted by the Swedish authorities for alleged sexual assaults against two women. Before the British government could send him to Sweden, he managed to seek refuge in the Embassy of Ecuador. I will not go into the particulars of his case, but I will state that a person in the embassy of another country is on the grounds of another country. Of course, if there is no agreement, Assange could be arrested the moment he steps out of the Ecuadoran embassy. That part is factual and clearly understood. What is not understood and needs to be clarified is that the British government has threatened to physically force its way into the Ecuadoran embassy and seize Assange. The British government is citing its national law that regulates embassies and consulates as the reason it may revoke Ecuador’s sovereignty in London and then invade the Ecuadoran embassy.

But the British government is on very dangerous ground in doing this. If the British government unilaterally takes away Ecuador’s embassy sovereignty, then Great Britain’s embassy and consulates sovereignty will also be compromised. The lives of British property in Ecuador will not be worth a plugged nickel. More than that, the British had better look carefully at the rising anti-British feeling going through South America. Most South American governments support Argentina on the Falkland Islands dispute, and a growing number of British commercial ships are being banned from South American ports. Anything done against the Ecuadoran embassy would indeed be business suicide for Great Britain. Whatever the British government may want Assange for, it must respect the sovereignty of Ecuador’s embassy. In fact, it must respect the sovereignty of any embassy however unpopular its government may be. I make no other argument on this point.

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