Political asylum occurs when a State welcomes a person who has been exiled or is persecuted in his native country for political reasons.
Political asylum is a very common practice among relevant positions in the countries, also among activists and people who are very critical of governments, especially non-democratic ones. Through this practice, the asylum seeker, due to the situation he suffers in his country of origin, requests that another State accept him and not allow his extradition. The countries that tend to accept do not usually have strong ties with the country of origin, as this could lead to tension between the two; and can even lead to the breakdown of relationships and confrontation between them.
This request tends to occur more in non-democratic countries, where, due to the lack of rights and freedoms, dissent against the regime is often highly persecuted. Therefore, people who are very critical of it, can face prison sentences, thus eliminating freedom of expression.
It can also happen when a regime falls violently, through a revolution or a coup. The overthrown government can escape, thus avoiding subsequent reprisals. Finally, it can occur in democratic regimes when a person commits certain criminal actions but that can be interpreted differently by other States, as is the case of Julian Assange.
Types of political asylum
We can speak of two types of political asylum according to the subject that obliges:
- Banishment: We will talk about this concept if it is the State that forcibly expels the individual. Consequently, he requests political asylum in another country, since he cannot reside in his own country. This was very common in ancient Greece with the practice of ostracism. The assembly met and decided whether an individual, for political reasons, should go into exile from his native land, considered a danger to public interests.
- When the asylum seeker is persecuted: It is the most common practice and the one that we have initially developed. It occurs when a person is in search and captures by his country and takes refuge in another if this allows him asylum.
Political asylum in international law
The first international treaty that mentions the figure of political law is the Treaty on international criminal law, signed in Montevideo in 1889. The mention is made in its article 16: “Asylum is inviolable for those persecuted for political crimes. But the presence of asylees must not endanger the peace of the Nation against which they have committed a crime ”. Article 17, for its part, establishes the conditions and procedures to be followed in these cases.
Subsequently, what supranational organizations and entities have done, as well as the countries themselves, has been to regulate the right to asylum in general. That it does not refer solely and exclusively to particular cases and for the reasons described above. Rather, it refers to people who have fled their countries of origin for compelling reasons such as the outbreak of war. In these cases, it is often referred to as “humanitarian asylum”.
Examples of political asylum
There are numerous examples throughout history of people forced to seek political asylum:
- Manuel Azaña: Like many leaders of the Second Spanish Republic, at the end of the war he was forced to go into exile in France and end the little life he had left there. In his case, he left in early 1939, before the conflict ended.
- Carlos Andrés Pérez: The former Venezuelan president went into exile seeking political asylum in 1999 in the Dominican Republic. With Chávez's victory, and the multiple criminal charges against him, he decided to go into exile and later end his life in the United States.
- Carles Puigdemont: After the declaration of the establishment of the Catalan republic on October 1, 2017, and his search for this fact, he went into exile in Brussels. Spain repeatedly requested the extradition of the former president, but the Belgian justice refused to do so.
- Evo Morales: The October 2019 elections were the ones that led to the exile of the former Bolivian president. Given the adverse popular climate and protests accusing him of electoral fraud, Evo resigned and went into exile in Mexico, because President López Obrador had offered him asylum. At the end of 2020 he returned for political reasons.
Differences between humanitarian asylum, political asylum and diplomatic asylum
Although they seem synonymous, they are not, and it is convenient to highlight how these concepts differ.
Thus, asylum has a very general meaning. In practice it is used to refer to all those who flee their country for any kind of justified reason, such as genocide or civil war. It is also known as humanitarian asylum.
On the other hand, diplomatic asylum is very similar to political asylum, but with a small and important difference. It is carried out in diplomatic buildings of the host country that are within the territory of the country of origin. For example, an embassy, where the state that demands his extradition does not have the power to penetrate it. This was the case of the Venezuelan opponent Leopoldo López, a refugee in the Spanish embassy for more than a year and a half after the failed uprising against Nicolás Maduro in 2019.