by Joshua Rozenberg
"It must be appalling to find yourself subjected to arbitrary detention. You would have no power to challenge said detention. You would have no idea when, if ever, you would be set free. And that concept is reflected in the first of five definitions offered by the UN working group on arbitrary detention: “when it is clearly impossible to invoke any legal basis justifying the deprivation of liberty”.
But that was not the reason they gave for their opinion that Julian Assange has been arbitrarily detained in the Ecuadorian embassy. His detention fell foul of their third definition; when “non-observance ... of the international norms relating to the right to a fair trial ... is of such gravity as to give the detention an arbitrary character”.
That opinion was backed by three of the five members of the working group. A fourth felt she could not take part because she, like Assange, is an Australian. So it fell to the fifth member of the group, Vladimir Tochilovsky, to point out the flaw in the majority’s reasoning.
They had assumed that Assange had been “detained in the embassy of Ecuador by the authorities of the United Kingdom,” the Ukrainian lawyer wrote. In fact, the Wikileaks founder had fled bail in June 2012 and used the embassy “as a safe haven to evade arrest”. Fugitives often do that, Tochilovsky pointed out. But “premises of self-confinement cannot be considered places of detention for the purposes of the mandate of the working group”.
That is so self-evidently true that it seems hard to believe the majority could have been persuaded otherwise. Assange has always been free to leave the embassy at any time."