Night Falls in the Evening Lands: The extradition of Julian Assange

Mar 5, 2024
London, UK. 21st February 2024. Kristinn Hrafnsson, Editor-In-Chief of WikiLeaks, gives a speech outside the High Court during a lunch break on the second day of Julian Assange's extradition hearing.Image: Alamy/Vuk Valcic/Alamy Live News

As we await the UK High Court decision on Julian Assange’s extradition to the US, the implications of Assange’s persecution and the repercussions for human rights, journalism, peace and justice will be explored at the conference Night Falls in the Evening Lands: the Assange epic, which will be held in Melbourne on March 9.

The opening address will be delivered by Craig Mokhiber, a former Director at the New York Office of the High Commission for Human Rights who resigned over the failure of the UN to prevent genocide in Gaza, naming the UK, the US and much of Europe as “wholly complicit in this horrific assault”.

Former SBS news anchor, Mary Kostakidis will be moderator for a stellar cast that includes Yanis Varoufakis, Dr Emma Shortis, Dr Binoy Kampmark, Dr Ruth Mitchell, Michael West, Professor Anne Orford, Professor Joseph Camilleri, Constantine Pakavakis, John Shipton, and Alistair Crooke.

One of the organisers, Professor Joseph Camilleri, spoke with Bay FM reporter Dr John Jiggens.


 JJ     Professor Joseph Camilleri, you are one of the organisers of the conference, Night Falls in the Evening Lands: the Assange epic, which will be held in Melbourne on March 9. Why is the Julian Assange case so important?

JC    Well John, it’s important for many reasons. Of course, there’s the personal tragedy of the man whose health has been so damaged because of what he did, which was to reveal among other things, war crimes committed by the United States, primarily in Iraq. But beyond that, beyond the personal suffering of one man for such a long period of time, it is important because of what was revealed – the misdeeds of the United States, the leading power in the world that claims to be an upholder of democracy and human rights, but whose actions suggest that those principles are often observed rhetorically, but not in practise.

Secondly, it tells us something about the way allies of the United States, in this case of Australia and their citizens, can be treated without the slightest regard for human rights and the rule of law.

And it tells us something about the Australian government, which pretty well until very recently was not prepared to say or do very much to assist an Australian citizen in these very difficult circumstances. So we are seeing that this is just part of a wider phenomenon, the breakdown of the rule of law, human rights being violated, and alliances working in ways that are contrary to the very values they supposedly are meant to uphold.

JJ    You have an impressive list of speakers with expertise in many fields. Is the conference concerned with Julian Assange, or is there a broader agenda?

JC    Well, of course there’s going to be some attention to what has happened, and what is still happening to Assange, and perhaps what the future may hold. But beyond that, we’re going to look at issues of human rights and international law, what they have to tell us about the situation, and what the situation tells us about the standing of human rights and international law in today’s world.

We’re going to look at the role of media, the mainstream media, which has been fairly woeful, certainly in countries like Australia and the United States, in bringing the issues to the attention of their respective audiences, but also not just a failure of coverage, but a failure of analysis as well.
And we’re going to also look at issues of Australian foreign and security policy and what the Assange saga tells us about the poor state of Australia as it tries to define its place in the world in ways that often are not particularly helpful.

JJ     Assange was granted asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London because the Ecuadorians concluded that he had been abandoned by his own country, Australia.

When a hostile country like China, Egypt or Iran detains an Australian journalist, the Australian government protests loudly and pressures these countries for the journalists release. The US and the UK claim to be our friends, yet the Gillard, Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments all ignored Assange, Australia’s most famous journalist, and it has only been the Albanese government that has campaigned for his release. What does this tell us about Australia.

JC     Well, it tells us, I think several things. The first is that Australian governments by and large are addicted to imperial power. It used to be primarily Britain in days gone by, and in more recent times it has been the United States. And they are pretty timid in their relations with the imperial power and that has been largely the case all the way through now for a long period of time.

This is also true to some extent of the Albanese government. Yes, it has made some noises that it wants some kind of resolution of the Assange issue. But what we don’t know is how forcefully that question has been put to either the UK or the US, I suspect that it has been put rather softly.

No indication, no suggestion by the Australian government so far as we know that should the issue not come to a speedy conclusion, Australia intends to take certain steps to review certain relationships and certain commitments. There’s been not the slightest inkling that that has been done, not only not done publicly, which we would have known had it been done, but there is considerable doubt that anything remotely like that has been said or done in private either. We don’t know how much muscle has been used in support of those calls, those comments.

It also shows how when there is a powerful interest at stake, how little the alliance offers when an Australian interest appears to be counter to an American interest. If Australia was half as influential in Washington as our political and military elites were telling us, something should have happened well and truly by now. And yet, so far, nothing much.

JJ     For the past seven decades, Australia has been involved in US-led wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, countries thousands of miles away from Australia. What does the Assange persecution tell us about US foreign policy and Australia?

JC     Well, it tells us that unfortunately, our elites and military elites, our security elites, perhaps to a considerable extent, the bureaucracy and the political class have been fixated on external threats.

And as a result, have sought the protection of the imperial power. And in order to have any prospect of gaining protection in the hour of need, we are told we need to show loyalty and loyalty means fighting side by side with the imperial power whenever it is engaged in war, and for this particularly given the rise of tensions between the United States and China in recent years, this requires us to increase the projection of the Australian military power.

Not because military power at the disposal of Australia would make much difference in the event of a major regional conflict, but because it demonstrates to the United States that we are a faithful ally. So it’s the policy of forward defence which has been going on for many years. The idea that it’s better to fight now rather than later and there rather than here, and to do it as a sign of our faithfulness to the great and powerful friend. And unfortunately this is the line that, by and large has come through our mainstream media, so there is a lot of work to be done and the conference is a contribution in that direction.

JJ      Alright, well, I’ve finished with my questions. Is there anything you’d like to add extra?

JC     No, except to say that if we’re interested in a change in direction. It’s not going to come about from the obvious sources, that is to say, from political elites, military elites, from those who basically run our media, it’s going to come from civil society.

See, it’s going to come from small and larger groups, community organisations and all those beavering away on so many different fronts, whether it be climate or peace and war, homelessness and so on, to try and see the connections and see whether we can build over time a new narrative that takes us away from the direction we’ve been following for so long, that is, I think, the principle task that lies ahead of us and hopefully enough Australians from different backgrounds will be able to rise to the challenge.

Date: Saturday 9 March 2024
Location: Storey Hall RMIT, 342 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Time: 9:00am – 5:00pm Australian Eastern Daylight Time (AEDT)

Night Falls in the Evening Lands – The Assange Epic Conference

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