Leiden Journal of International Law


Diplomatic Asylum and the Assange Case



This article traces the place and development of diplomatic asylum in international law in close connection with the more specific questions raised by the case of Julian Assange, who was granted asylum in the Ecuador embassy in London on 16 August 2012. After discussing the historical rise and decline of diplomatic asylum, the article reviews the current status of diplomatic asylum in international law and its implications for the triangular legal relationship between the United Kingdom, Ecuador, and Mr Assange. The article submits that, although there would not seem to be a title in general international law or human rights law for Ecuador to grant asylum to Assange, there is no obvious legal route for the United Kingdom to terminate the asylum. The fate of Assange resembles that of a long series of historical precedents where diplomatic asylum resulted in protracted stays. Although this may seem an unsatisfactory result from the perspective of international law, the uneasy balance between territorial sovereignty and diplomatic inviolability also engenders incentives to avoid disputes or to resolve them through diplomatic channels.

Key words

  • diplomatic asylum;
  • diplomatic immunities;
  • diplomatic law;
  • human rights;
  • non-intervention


*  MA (Leiden), LL M (Leiden), PhD (Leiden). Assistant Professor of International Law, Amsterdam Center for International Law, University of Amsterdam [m.denheijer@uva.nl]. The author wishes to thank Isabelle Swerissen and Evelien van Roemburg for their helpful comments. The usual disclaimer applies.