I asked for the extradition of Pinochet, who had been investigated and charged with… genocide, torture, serious breaches of human rights… Assange is having a fundamental right breached too — freedom of expression — and that is why he has been granted political asylum. (Judge Baltasar Garzón)
The paths of Julian Assange and Baltasar Garzón have become curiously intertwined. Two global personages, rebuked for accusing powerful actors of egregious rights violations, abandoned by their home governments and up against a mountain of politicized charges. Both men, intriguing personalities, stand at the middle of controversies much larger than themselves, but also deeply personal, speaking truth to power while struggling with their own derailed lives. Somehow, their alliance—with Garzón now leading Assange’s defense—seems to reflect its own conspiracy of justice.
Those suspicious of the association have assailed Garzón for taking an untenable contradictory position: resisting Assange’s extradition from the UK to Sweden while pushing for Pinochet’s extradition from the UK to Spain. Garzón has countered that Pinochet was wanted for human rights crimes; Assange has been the victim of human rights crimes (i.e., of the right to free expression and potentially political asylum).
The debate’s emphasis reveals how much universal jurisdiction is mistakenly conflated with extradition. Requests for extradition are based on claims for jurisdiction, firmly ensconced in international law. Universal jurisdiction is one of those claims, linked to well-founded accusations of grave human rights abuses. The nature of the abuse is the starting point, followed by a claim for universal jurisdiction, and only then extradition. Most of the time, extradition has nothing to do with universal jurisdiction.
Garzón and others opposed to extraditing the WikiLeaks founder fear that Assange may be extradited to a third country (the United States) for a new set of political charges (espionage) after he has already been granted asylum (by Ecuador). It’s an altogether different dynamic…when those daring to expose human rights crimes themselves become the targets of politically motivated abuse.