Remarks by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary John D. Feeley at OAS Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs

John D. Feeley, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, addresses the 27th meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the OAS. (OAS Photo)
John D. Feeley, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, addresses the 27th meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the OAS. (OAS Photo)

“Situation between Ecuador and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland regarding the inviolability of the diplomatic premises of Ecuador in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in accordance with international law”

Washington, D.C.

August 24, 2012

Many thanks, Mr. Chair.

On behalf of the United States, allow me to welcome to a very hot and humid August Washington, D.C. all of the distinguished Foreign Ministers and the representatives who have travelled quite far on very short notice to attend today’s meeting.

Mr. Chair, when we last met to consider this matter, my delegation asserted that this was a legal matter for Ecuador, Sweden and the United Kingdom to resolve among themselves.  We stated at that time that it would be unhelpful for the OAS to insert itself into this delicate issue that must ultimately be resolved in a way consistent with international law, particularly since it involves matters of criminal justice, European law, and the sovereign extradition arrangements between the United Kingdom and Sweden, two nations with very well respected judicial systems.

We noted then that no action to warrant a meeting of consultation had occurred.  In fact, the matter we are being asked to comment on today, specifically the issue of the inviolability of diplomatic premises, is not – from what I can hear from my colleagues’ statements – in dispute.  There appears to be genuine consensus that the inviolability of those diplomatic premises should be held sacrosanct.  So, what’s changed?

Mr. Assange remains at this time in the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge.  All three governments have expressed a willingness to discuss the issue to resolve the impasse.  There has been no violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by the United Kingdom, and I would thank my distinguished colleague from Ecuador for citing Foreign Secretary Hague’scomments on the 16th, and draw your attention to the paper that was circulated this morning, that there was no threat in the view of the Government of Great Britain.

So, if we are here simply to underscore or reiterate our obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, let me take this opportunity to state unequivocally that the United States has been, is, and will remain fully committed to a strict observance of its obligations under this important diplomatic treaty.

My colleagues, no member state of this Organization has a greater interest than the United States in upholding the principle of the inviolability of diplomatic premises.  We’ve heard from a number of speakers this morning as to cases when that inviolability has not been held sacrosanct.  We, the United States, have diplomatic and consular offices in virtually every corner of the world.  Again, I thank Minister Patiño for recalling that we had 52 of our diplomats held hostage in Iran for 444 days back in ‘78, ’79 and ’80.  We lost more than 200 of our diplomatic and foreign service national colleagues to bombings in our Embassies in Nairobi and in Dar es Salaam.

These kinds of heinous attacks on our embassies and our people make us particularly keen to defend diplomats and diplomatic facilities.

Of course, the United States understands the desire to express concern when any of our sister states in the Organization perceives a threat to one of its embassies.  But let us be realistic and objective about the matter.  We can and should encourage the countries involved to meet together to resolve their differences.  We should not perpetuate a debate over threats or perceived threats that we have been assured do not exist.

Additionally, let us consider carefully what this hemispheric body of democracies deems to be its most pressing challenges to the security and prosperity of the 930 million citizens of the Hemisphere that we represent.

Mr. Chair, my delegation shares with all members of the OAS a commitment to international law.  But we should not divert for too long our attention to a hypothetical debate over diplomatic law, at the expense of more vital and more consequential challenges to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and the economic well-being in the part of the world in which we live.  Our citizens expect the OAS to focus on the issues that affect them daily and concretely in their lives.  Neither Mr. Assange’s pending issues with Swedish justice nor the question of diplomatic facilities in London qualify as one of these issues in our view.

Ladies and gentlemen, the impasse between Ecuador, the United Kingdom and Sweden will be resolved through proper diplomatic and legal channels, regardless of what we say in this forum today.

And it is my sincere hope that the next time we are gathered, the expressions of solidarity that we shall make in support of poverty eradication and sustainable development, improved education and energy security in the Americas, and of critical importance, the freedom of expression and the defense of a free press in our Hemisphere, my hope Mr. Chair is that these expressions of collective solidarity will be as urgent and insistent as the calls made today to vouchsafe our diplomatic personnel and our facilities.

Thank you very much.

Also: See text of the resolution approved at the plenary meeting.