World Desperately Needs Whistleblowers as Big Media, Big Tech Curbing Free Speech, Ex-UN Expert Says
Julian Assange's potential extradition to the US would set a dangerous precedent, observers warn. Retired UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order Alfred-Maurice de Zayas spoke to Sputnik about a "silent consent" of top international institutions regarding the persecution of the WikiLeaks founder.
Last week, Julian Assange's legal team resisted American lawyers' renewed attempt to pave the way for the WikiLeaks founder's extradition to the US. Britain’s High Court said it would issue a ruling at a later date.
Earlier this year, a British judge blocked Assange's extradition, citing his poor mental health.
Julian Assange, a 50-year old Australian citizen, is accused by Washington of espionage over publishing a massive trove of US government documents and war logs describing US troops' conduct and alleged war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Sputnik: What’s your take on the situation when a UK judge is up to decide whether or not to extradite an Australian citizen to the US? Why does the Australian government remain silent? What does this situation tell one about the rule of international law?
Alfred de Zayas: The Australian government is complicit in the massive violation of the human rights of an Australian citizen. Australia's failure to exercise "diplomatic protection" on behalf of one of its citizens reflects how little ethics means in the international arena. The Latin phrase "qui tacet consentire videtur" - he who remains silent is deemed to consent - applies in the Assange case not only with regard to Australia, but also with regard to the "human rights industry", the major non-governmental organisations, even the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Assange case should have been a priority item of the UN Human Rights Council, but it has been swept under the carpet and distorted by sensationalist fake news in the US, UK, Sweden and most of Europe.
One could have expected that every non-governmental organisation devoted to human rights would protest every day until Assange is released, as was demanded in 2015 by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, by myself 2016 in my capacity as UN Independent Expert on International Order, and 2020 by my Swiss colleague Professor Nils Melzer, the UN Rapporteur on Torture. Melzer's new book "Der Fall Julian Assange" (Piper, Munich ) came out in March 2021 and describes chapter by chapter the corruption of the rule of law in the US, UK, Sweden and Ecuador, their complicity in the physical and psychological torture to which Assange has been subjected.
It is a disgrace that countries that are states parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights can violate its articles 7, 9, 10, 14, 19 with impunity. It is a further disgrace how the mainstream media contributed to "manufacturing consent" by defaming the person of Julian Assange, so as to make it more palatable to "punish" him by violating his most fundamental human rights.
The abuse of extradition procedures in the cases of Julian Assange and Alex Saab reflect the corruption of the rule of international law. Melzer's book has only been published in the original German, but an English version is being published in New York early 2022. In an essay in Counterpunch I called Melzer the Emile Zola of our times - because his revelations are far, far worse than what Zola made public in the 1898 Dreyfus Affair. Melzer demonstrates not only a miscarriage of justice by French military courts against Dreyfus - but a consistent pattern of "lawfare", the deliberate use of the administration of justice to do injustice, to destroy a human being who had the courage to reveal the crimes committed by our governments.
Many voices have been raised to demand the Nobel Peace Prize for Julian Assange. But we know that this award has lost its lustre and its credibility. Indeed, this year's laureates are thoroughly undeserving. The award was a mockery of true believers in peace – and in disarmament for development.
© REUTERS / HENRY NICHOLLSA supporter of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange protests outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Britain, October 27, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A supporter of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange protests outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Britain, October 27, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Sputnik: What do you think about the British judge's focus on Assange's mental and physical health rather than on his conduct? Does the British justice system have no laws protecting journalists, publishers, whistleblowers?
Alfred de Zayas: Admittedly, Assange is in a very bad state of health and deserves the best medical attention, which he is not getting. This has been documented for years by many medical doctors and psychiatrists who have examined him. But the whole argument around Assange's physical health is a "red herring" – a distraction, or worse, an attempt to circumvent the real issues at stake – the right to freedom of expression, freedom of the media, the right of all citizens to know what our governments are doing in our name.
Indeed, we desperately need whistleblowers who reveal the war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by our governments. We have a right to call George W. Bush, Tony Blair and many others to account for the barbarism perpetrated by NATO forces against the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq. Whistleblowers are genuine human rights defenders and deserve our solidarity, and the support of the Human Rights Council.
Since 2012, there has been a UN Rapporteur on the Right to Truth, Justice and Reparation. We all need the truth about Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen. In my new book "Building a Just World Order" (Clarity Press, Atlanta, September 2021) I specifically call for a Charter of Rights of Whistleblowers, something that I did repeatedly in my reports 2012-18 to the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly. I formulate 25 Principles of International Order which also address the crucial role of whistleblowers in democratic societies.
Sputnik: Some observers argue that if the British justice system rules to extradite Assange, it would create a very dangerous precedent allowing foreign jurisdictions to accuse and detain journalists and whistleblowers. Do you agree with that?
Alfred de Zayas: I do not believe that the British justice system can extradite Assange. They want to wear him down (which they have succeeded in doing). They want him dead and buried (which may yet happen). Of course, international law is on Assange's side and the principle of non-refoulement is absolute. If anyone is entitled to asylum from persecution – it is Julian Assange, and he would receive refugee status anywhere under the Geneva Refugee Convention. An opinion should be obtained from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in this regard.
If the UK judge were to rule in favour of extradition, this would certainly be appealed to the High Court – and the counter-appeal would roll out all the REAL issues under the ICCPR and the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the right to information, freedom of expression, protection of whistleblowers. An appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg would follow – or an appeal to the UN Human Rights Committee. Human rights law fully supports Assange, but governments are known to break the law with impunity – as we recently saw in the Alex Saab case and in the countless targeted assassination cases for which my country, the United States, is responsible.
29 October 2021, 23:50 GMT
Sputnik: What is unique about WikiLeaks? Why haven't we seen anything comparable to the Podesta Papers or Vault 7 over the past three-four years? Does this mean that the Western political establishment managed to intimidate independent journalists? Could we call the ICIJ that leaked Pandora Papers earlier this year really independent?
Alfred de Zayas: Independent journalists have of course been intimidated. It is dangerous to be a whistleblower, and our comfortable societies seem to allow this Orwellian attack on journalism. True enough, ICIJ has done some good work in the past. But it is peculiar that the Pandora Papers do not reveal much about Western political leaders and seem to embarrass enemies of the United States – [Vladimir] Putin as well as some African and Latin American leaders. I have grave doubts as to the completeness of the Pandora Papers and suspect that the leak has been heavily edited to protect some very big fish. That is why we need more whistleblowers.
Sputnik: Would you agree that Big Media and Big Tech have become excessively politicised? If so, what risks is this trend fraught with?
Alfred de Zayas: Big Brother seems to be winning, and we poor citizens of Oceania must endure continuing manipulation by Big Media and Big Tech. It is not just "fake news", but the suppression of crucial information that we are observing. When we only get partial news and essential facts are taken out of the narrative, we are being lied to. Censorship is bad when it is conducted by the government. It is actually worse when it is done by the private sector that has no democratic legitimacy whatsoever.
At least many governments are democratically elected and we can call our parliamentarians and presidents to account. But how are we going to push back against the indoctrination and brainwashing practised by CNN, Fox, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Amazon, etc.? As a UN Rapporteur, I always demanded transparency and accountability, and denounced the manipulations by Big Media and Big Tech – and it is precisely these powerful players who have buried the reports of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, of Nils Melzer and my own. Let us hope that Melzer's new book "The Case Julian Assange" will sensitise at least part of civil society to the threats against our democratic order and mobilise us to demand the immediate liberation of Julian Assange, who should be allowed to rejoin with wife and two children.