Francisco Carrión is an Ecuadorian diplomat and political analyst. He is the ex-Foreign Affairs Minister of Ecuador, having also worked in the embassies in Paris, Madrid and London. After resigning as head of mission at the United Nations he began teaching at FLACSO University in Quito.
The delay in Ecuador's answer to Mr. Assange's asylum bid hints at a deep think caused by the issue's complexity. What do you think are the key points of the debate?
It's normal that in a case like this, with multilateral implications and big powers as actors, that Ecuador is taking its time to answer. First of all it is fundamental to consider the bilateral relation between the UK and Ecuador in these procedures, and as they are not written down formally in any covenant the only thing that can be invoked are international agreements on Human Rights. But at the same time the case is even more peculiar, because there are three other countries involved: in first place Australia as Mr. Assange's home country, in second place Sweden, which is formally requiring his extradition to testify for the allegations weighing on him. Last of all there is the US, which has been very cautious but is probably the most important player as their representatives on various levels have declared that they are waiting to judge him.
On top of this the UK has to allow Mr. Assange to leave the country for him to reach Quito, which is a completely different story. Because even though Ecuador is in it's full sovereign right to grant political protection, the UK, making use of it's own sovereignty and internal normative code can deny allowing him to leave. The case is very complicated.
For Ecuador, what type of consequences could take place if the asylum request is granted?
Before jumping to conclusions we have to consider two key elements. The first one has to do with Ecuador's interests but the other one, which has been a bit forgotten, has to do with the principles of International Law. According to tradition and convention, Ecuador can grant asylum if Mr. Assange's life or physical integrity are in danger and if the accusations against him are political in nature. I personally believe that in this case both prerequisites are fulfilled, and that Ecuador should grant asylum to Mr. Assange as his life is at stake.
But do you think that there could be a backlash against Ecuador on behalf of one of the countries involved in the affair?
In legal terms none because Ecuador is making fair use of it's sovereign right while granting this protection. Of course in practical terms we have to admit, without being naive, that these countries could abstain from certain agreements in other areas such as cooperation or commercial endeavors. But I insist, from the legal point of view there is no motive for this situation to bring Ecuador any sort of retaliation.
How can this process affect Ecuador's image internationally?
As I said, if the asylum based on human rights claims is finally granted then Ecuador would certainly get international recognition for defending human rights, however, the huge public campaign surrounding Mr. Assange's figure and his work with Wikileaks can have unforeseen consequences in the future.
If the UK denies letting Mr. Assange leave the country and he decides to remain in the Embassy, do you think Ecuador's sovereignty would be respected? Are there any precedents of violations of this protocol?
I find it very difficult for something like this to happen. The UK and its institutions are very solid, enough so as to respect the Vienna Convention which establishes the inviolability of diplomatic headquarters, correspondence and vehicles. It would be a risky step and I don't think the UK will take it.
How does the Ecuadorian population regard this issue? How is the debate going on in the media and the general public?
The press has given an ample coverage of the affair but my impression is that the Ecuadorian people have other worries and needs right now. The average citizen has not given it the importance it deserves. Apart from the political and academical discourse, where there has been some reticence by the opposition, there have been some expressions of support from human right advocates.