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A WWII bomb was found in central Berlin yesterday, with the area being evacuated. The evacuation zone included the Indonesian and Uzbek embassies, according to media reports.

Do the standard diplomatic protections that would apply to an embassy apply if the embassy has to evacuate due to a similar, temporary circumstance? For example, would someone who has refuge in the said embassy become subject to arrest once they are evacuated, or would the host state be expected under international law to extend protections to a reasonable assembly point?

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    I don't believe that the embassies were required to evacuate, other than "OMG, they're pulling a 75-year-old fuse out of a 1,000-lb. bomb." They could have gone to the basement and hoped for the best. – o.m. Apr 21 '18 at 7:03
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    While the specific example seems highly hypothetical, it might be interesting asking a more generic question (e.g. "There is any legal provision in the case of an embassy being forced to evacuate due to force majeure?"). Apart from unexploded bombs there are floods, fires and other catastrophes, and apart from refugees there are sensitive documents, personal belongings, etc. – SJuan76 Apr 21 '18 at 17:29
  • @SJuan76 How does that edit look? – Joe C Apr 21 '18 at 19:31
  • @o.m. So if this happened in London, the whole Ecuadorian embassy except Assange would evacuate. They must have fire alarm practice sometimes. My whole workplace gets evacuated twice a year. – gnasher729 Apr 21 '18 at 23:48
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    @gnasher729 That should really be an answer, not a comment, and it should also be sourced. – Joe C Apr 22 '18 at 13:53
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TL;DR Assange could be arrested if he left the embassy, even in the case of an emergency


Firstly, Assange is still liable to be arrested if he leaves the embassy:

Julian Assange can still be detained police if he leaves the Ecuadorian embassy in London, a judge has ruled after refusing to cancel a long-standing arrest warrant.

Source: The Independent

The basis of his protection is based on the inviolability of the embassy itself:

While diplomatic premises in the UK are part of UK territory, they are inviolable and may not be entered without the consent of the Ambassador or Head of Mission

Source: cps.gov.uk

Diplomatic immunity doesn't follow Assange out of the building:

Diplomatic immunity in the UK is conferred on all entitled members of a foreign mission (and entitled family members forming part of their household, provided they are not nationals of the UK) who have been notified to, and accepted by, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) as performing a diplomatic function

Source: cps.gov.uk

Assange hasn't been granted that immunity.

Of course Assange doesn't have to evacuate the building in the case of an emergency.

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TL;DR While Assange could legally be arrested if he left the embassy, even in the case of an emergency, in reality, he probably wouldn't be arrested in that situation.

Long Answer

Do the standard diplomatic protections that would apply to an embassy apply if the embassy has to evacuate due to a similar, temporary circumstance?

For example, would someone who has refuge in the said embassy become subject to arrest once they are evacuated, or would the host state be expected under international law to extend protections to a reasonable assembly point?

@Bad_Bishop accurately states the black letter law that Assange legally could be arrested in this situation and that there is no express language in the relevant treaties that covers this situation.

But, it is also true that in matters of diplomacy, a host country will not always press to limit the benefits of diplomatic immunity to its narrowest legal extent, particularly in the case of an innocent contingency like the one suggested, in order to foster good will with the hosted delegation, and to remain in good standing in diplomatic circles more generally.

So, while Assange could be legally arrested, it is unlikely that he would be in these circumstances.

For example, if Assange stayed in one of several diplomatic SUVs during the evacuation until a reassembly place is reached, and the evacuated mission did not identify which one he was in, it is unlikely that U.K. law enforcement would try to pull him out of the diplomatic vehicle to arrest him.

Similarly, the U.K. Foreign ministry would probably recognize whatever assembly place was sought by the evacuated mission as a new embassy on a temporary basis very quickly. So, some personal mansion or office building or warehouse of an expatriate or sympathizer, or even a hotel commandeered (for substantial payment to the owner) on short notice, would probably be recognized as a temporary substitute embassy in a matter of hours, under emergency circumstances, even though the relevant treaty doesn't require this treatment in so many words.

Diplomacy values honoring the spirit as well as the letter of an agreement, and reciprocity. If the U.K. pressed its advantage as a result of an innocent emergency like this one ruthlessly, it could expect similar treatment of its diplomats if some emergency disturbed one of their embassies in the future, which is something it would prefer to avoid.

This is particularly true in the U.K., in which the habit of adherence to unwritten standards in its "constitution" for centuries has had a profound impact on its political culture. U.K. politicians universally recognize that mere adherence to enacted statutes and treaties is not a complete statement of their binding obligations in political matters.

  • While I appreciate your contribution, it is unfortunately rather light on references. – Joe C Apr 29 '18 at 20:38
  • @JoeC Some kinds of answers are a synthesis of a lot of things and can't be neatly attributed to particular references. My take comes from a sense of how diplomats operate developed over time that would take a chapter of a book to develop with references showing historical examples of broad general concepts. There isn't an official policy somewhere that one can cite to in order to demonstrate it. – ohwilleke Apr 29 '18 at 21:51
  • If these "diplomatic SUVs" had any sort of legal force, the Ecuadorians would have shoved him in one and driven him to the nearest airport in it. – Valorum Apr 8 '19 at 0:05
  • @Valorum the main issue with the "diplomatic vehicle" angle is not one of whether diplomatic protection extends to it, but rather a more basic issue which makes the question moot anyway - the Ecuadorean embassy is an apartment, and the car park in the basement is outside the embassy. There was no way for Assange to get from the embassy itself to any diplomatic vehicle while remaining under protection. – Moo Apr 12 '19 at 11:04
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    @Moo - You don't have to get out of your vehicle to go on the Chunnel – Valorum Apr 12 '19 at 11:27

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