Dear Mr High Commissioner: Help Free Assange

In an open letter, Christophe Peschoux, recently retired from the U.N. Human Rights Office, calls on his former boss to help the WikiLeaks publisher, whose legal appeal will be heard in London later this month.    

Volker Türk, at left, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, on Sept. 11, 2023, for the opening of the 54th session of the Human Rights Council; Václav Bálek, president of the Human Rights Council, on right. (UN Photo/Jean Marc Ferré)

Open Letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights — Rule of law and raison d’etat :  Julian Assange must be released

By Christophe Peschoux

Mr. High Commissioner,

On 20-21 February, a High Court in London will decide Julian Assange’s fate: freedom or death. Two judges will decide whether the WikiLeaks founder will still be able to lodge an ultimate appeal, or will end his days in an American jail.

Mr. Assange has committed no crime. His only fault is to have revealed some of the crimes of the powerful of our time. Lèse majesté crime!

American wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have destroyed millions of lives and ruined these countries for generations to come. No one has been prosecuted. On the contrary, these crimes have been covered up with impunity in the United States. And yet Mr. Assange is being punished for having published evidence of some of them. Political justice.

He is charged under a treason law dating from the first world war in 1917. Can one betray the laws of a country that is not our own? Is American law universal?  To accept it would be to dangerously open the door to the arbitrariness that comes with unchecked power: tomorrow, another powerful state could arrogate to itself the right, under the law of the strongest, to prosecute a foreign journalist, researcher or rights activist accused of breaking its law. 

Under international law, depriving someone of their liberty is an exceptional decision, which must be duly justified to ensure fair proceedings. Yet, presumed innocent like any accused, Mr. Assange has been imprisoned without trial for almost five years as a dangerous criminal in a high-security prison near London. No release on bail for him, under judicial supervision, pending the outcome of proceedings that are clearly dragging their feet and taking their ease with time — the short time of a man’s life. 

Why? To prevent him from the risk of escaping from a justice, which in his case, is set to fail him. Do the British judges who lent their names to this parody and threw him in jail, like a public enemy, wonder why their decisions are held in suspicion?  Presumption of innocence? Yes, but he must be punished first. 

“No release on bail for him, under judicial supervision, pending the outcome of proceedings that are clearly dragging their feet and taking their ease with time — the short time of a man’s life.” 

In the United States, he is charged with 18 counts  that carry a total of 175 years in prison. If extradited, he will have little chance of a fair trial. The court that will try him is located a stone’s throw from the C.I.A. headquarters, in a community of former or actual employees of its services, some of whose criminal practices WikiLeaks has revealed. During the special proceeding that will be imposed on him, his right to a defence will be compromised. 

The villains who have been dragging him through the mud and hounding him for 14 years, thanks to the powerful relays of servile media, have no interest in a prolonged public trial that would open the Pandora’s box of America’s countless crimes. They accused him of rape and of endangering American lives. Neither allegation stood up to the test of evidence.

Others before him who became embarrassing, such as Jeffrey Epstein or his accomplice in France, were found “suicided” in their cells in dubious circumstances. It would be easy to put his death down to exhaustion and the despair of a life deprived of hope, meaning and freedom. 

Julian Assange at the Stop the War Coalition rally at Trafalgar Square, London, Oct. 8, 2011. (Haydn, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

None of the European states that preach the rule of law, democracy and human rights, yet trample them underfoot every day, has offered Mr. Assange political asylum. To allow the U.K. to extradite this man without a word to stop it, in the name of a justice that is not our own, but the black robe of the powers that be, is to consent to be an accomplice of his deportation.

Why are all Western states so determined to violate, left and right in his case, national and international human rights standards ? Is it to ensure that his torment is made a visible deterrent to dissuade others to expose certain of “our” crimes?

Mr. High Commissioner,

Mr. Assange is a defender of human rights; an innovative journalist and creative publisher; he is one of us. He should not be locked up but standing with us in our office. Is he not persecuted for doing what every serious investigative journalist, every serious human rights investigator, every one of us in this office should be doing every day: investigating allegations, documenting states and other crimes and promoting truth, accountability and justice? 

“He is one of us. He should not be locked up but standing with us in our office.”

The fight for his freedom is not just a battle to free a man unduly pilloried by our modern inquisitions. It is one of the emblematic battles of our time: the battle of right against reason of State; of truth against lies. Free and verified information is indispensable to the exercise of citizenship and the duty of transparency incumbent upon every democratic government. 

This battle is also emblematic of the gaping divide at the heart of our societies that is dangerously paving the way for future tyrannies and rumbling revolts: the recurrent confrontation between “we, the peoples” (as the preamble of the U.N. Charter begins) and the arrogant and uninhibited violence of the world’s “elites,” who are increasingly dissociated from society and for whom the human rights of others — which they enjoy— have become a “has-been” embarrassment. Were not human rights born of this struggle ? History continues.

Outside Belmarsh Prison in London, where Julian Assange is imprisoned, Sept. 16, 2023. (Alisdaire Hickson, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

All human-rights and press-freedom groups consider Mr. Assange’s indictment to be the most serious threat worldwide to press freedom in the United States and elsewhere. Our office, however, has remained conspicuously silent. How is it that successive high commissioners have carefully ignored him and have not dared to say a word in his defence?

I did not wait, Mr. High Commissioner, until I retired last October, to inform the office of the threats to our rights and freedoms posed by his persecution. I kept the management team informed on the basis of verified information. I worked in my spare time, and with several special rapporteurs, to ensure that the U.N. spoke out and said the law. As my successive memos went unanswered, hoping to reach their heart, I composed and sent Mrs. Bachelet, [who served as U.N high commissioner of human rights from 2018 to 2022] and then you, the poem appended to this letter: “A quarter to midnight.” Your silence was matched by that of most of my colleagues. Fear to speak and cowardice, Mr. High Commissioner, reign in the United Nations Human Rights Office. 

I am well aware that your job is one of the most difficult among these disunited nations, each of them pulling the human rights fig leaf to hide its shame.  

I also know that the funding of this office is political, and that it is the richest states that hold the strings of our purses. But if this office lacks resources commensurate with the challenges it faces — the rule of a just law is everywhere on the defensive — compromising its independence and impartiality for a few million dollars is a dubious calculation. 

Isn’t it better to have a small ship sailing valiantly on the crests of international standards to show the way ahead, than a heavy liner emptied of its soul? 

More than money, the world today needs the height and moral authority of someone who speaks out, above the fray of history and its battlefields, to remind us of the perils of unchained hubris, to get things back on track and avoid the worst. But moral authority is not a question of position and can only be acquired through integrity, courage and example. 

You only have four years, Mr. High Commissioner, to “make a difference” in the real world. Whatever you do, to balance wolf and lamb, at the end of your term, the powers that chose you will spit you out like a cherry stone. Don’t exchange what’s left of the soul of this office, which the world badly needs, for the mirages of an OHCHR 2.0. 

Exposing the truth must not become a crime.

Isn’t it high time for this office to make its voice heard above the compromises and short-term interests that stifle life? A freed voice that demands, without modesty, Julian Assange’s freedom for the sake of our own. 

It’s already late, Mr. High Commissioner, a quarter to midnight past…


Quarter to midnight…

It’s high time my friends

That we realize

That the persecution

Of Julian Assange

Is also our own… 

That he is one of us

And a pathfinder

Of some of the crimes

Of these dreadful times

Made in our name…

Hostage of conscience

Detained in the heart 

Of democracies 

Which show by his plight

What they‘re underneath…


His persecution

Is a frontal blow

At the foundation

Of our polities

To challenge our rights

Repress our freedoms:

Our right to think free

And to be informed

To speak and to act

To exchange and share

And build together

With our hands, our minds

The warmth of our hearts

And our eyes opened

The world, which we want

To live and love in…

— I say the world, which 

We want to live in

And not just the show

Where we pass and dream…


What did he defend?

Oh, very little!

The freedom of speech

Of information

And of a free press

Still independent…

Our right to the truth

And our need to know

What those we elect

Do in our name

Especially when

They use the shadows

To commit their forfeits…

The right of any


To freely inquire

In any matter

Of public concern

And protect their sources

Without reprisal…

The courage and right

Of whistle-blowers

To disclose the facts

That hurt their conscience

And to be protected

By law and justice

If they are attacked…

The duty to protect

Our own privacy

Which is essential

To the blossoming

Of our true being…

The right to fair trial

Not to be deprived

Of one’s liberty


The right not to be

Subject to torment

For having acted in

Soul and conscience…

The right to respect

And to protection

For daring to speak

And stand by the truth…


Isn’t it what we 

Do stand for and we

Do every day

In this high office:

Undressing states’ crimes

Exposing their lies

Promoting justice

And hold them to book?

Isn’t it our mission

And the raison d’être

Of our commitment

To keep the light on

Against the dark side?


Through Julian’s ordeal

It is our freedoms

That are undermined

The very spirit

Of democracy

Which remains the least

Of the worst regimes

To live and work in

Despite all its faults

Betrayals and filth

Its caricatures

And its perversions…

Its myriad of crimes

Made in our name

With impunity

Without us knowing…

How many countries

Have been torn to pieces

How many people

Were decimated

By this world of ours

That calls itself free?


It’s our liberties

That are under siege

Now on borrowed time

For how much longer?

Its is already

A quarter to midnight…


He has been paying

Ten years of his life

Deprived of the sun

For exposing the truth

And ignominy

Of brutal powers

And laid bare their words…


Rather than silence

Should not our office

Bestow him the price

Of our true spirit?

Let’s not add to his 

Torment, the weight of

Our indifference

And add our disgrace

To his pillory…


We have the duty

To firmly oppose

His extradition

Which for sure will sign

His sentence of death

By a law that is

That of the strongest…


From a procedure

To a procedure

Those who want his life

In the name of justice

That is not our own

Will keep him confined

The rest of his life

In a cell of shame…

If he does not die

Before, of despair

For having too much

Believed in freedom

In the power of truth

These precious values

That institutions

Are meant to defend…

If he does not put

In act of despair

An end to himself

And to the non-life

That has become his…


There are reasons to fear

That he may be found

Lifeless one morning

“Suicided” in his cell

Like those before him

Who have become

Too embarrassing

To the powers that be…

Those who want him

For having unmasked

Some of their secrets

And their many lies

And shaken up their thrones

Have no interest

In a long trial

That would open up 

The Pandora’s box

Of some of their crimes

And make them public…


It will be futile

When he will be gone

Across the ocean

Or the river Styx

To cry on his heels

Praise his memory

And beg his pardon

For not having reached

Our hand out in time…

Julian has no need

For crocodile tears…


In the lone descent

Of his dark exile

He expects the smile

Of our amity

To lighten his heart

And of our support

Conscious and active

Which only can put

An end to his plight…

Every minute counts

It is already 

A quarter to midnight…


This poem my friends

Invites you to join

This plea to demand

To the powerful

Who hold in their claws

Julian’s fragile life 

To release this man

And through his freedom

To defend our own…

This we do not owe  

Solely to him

But also to these

Too precious values

Which we believe in

And which give meaning

And beauty to our lives…

It is now well past

A quarter to midnight…

(April 2022)

Christophe Peschoux is a senior human rights officer and one of the most experienced investigators in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). He devoted 42 years, half in the field, to the protection of refugees and people against the violence of states. He is the author of two books and several articles on the history of the Khmer Rouge. He retired from that office last October but not to causes close to his heart.


10 comments for “Dear Mr High Commissioner: Help Free Assange

  1. Susan Leslie
    February 11, 2024 at 10:19

    If you will but open your eyes to what is really happening in the world right now – you will see that there are so many others who should be locked up in jail rather than Julian Assange (who is the only one telling the truth!) – my favorites are: Joe Biden, Anthony Blinken, Victoria Nuland, Bibi and their ilk…

  2. Peta Brennan
    February 10, 2024 at 12:45

    Whether you’re part of the political right wing or the ‘liberal’ left please note how many international publications like the Guardian, Washington Post and the New York Times have even covered his impending fate. They, both right and left, have done nothing to educate the public/raise an outcry as to this repulsive injustice.
    I have a terminal illness and can say what I want. They, all of them, have terminal cowardice and massive self interest.
    The media in Europe, England and the United States is beneath contempt.

  3. WillD
    February 9, 2024 at 22:38

    Isn’t it high time that the High Commissioner for Human Rights actually DOES his job?

    If he is too afraid to then I’d suggest a name change to High Commissioner for Abuse of Human Rights.

  4. Glen Davis
    February 9, 2024 at 22:16

    Thank you, Consortium News for publishing this Christophe Peschoux article. I do not support every word, but I agree Assange has been held contrary to the presumption of innocence. I agree he is not bound by the laws under which the USA seeks to prosecute him. I agree the UK has been unjust in jailing him pending decision on his extradition.
    The Australian government has not acquitted its duty to uphold the rights of its citizen. Equally disgracefully, the Australian government has done nothing to promote the prosecution of those whose crimes Assange exposed. Similarly, the Australian government persecuted Witness K and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, for exposing crimes, including conspiracy to commit fraud in the Australian Capital Territory. Witness K was prosecuted in secret trial in which he was allowed no right to counter secret evidence. These actions are totally inconsistent with the rule of law. These nations are not democratic, as they pretend. We have abundant commissions and authorities charged with countering corruption and upholding justice and their inaction is shameful.

      February 11, 2024 at 11:25

      In this context, “charges” refers to allegations made by the “villains” not to formal charges by a legal authority, which indeed were never leveled at Assange.

  5. Carolyn/Cookie out west
    February 9, 2024 at 21:29

    Free Julian Assange….I pray for this every night as I touch a photo of Julian on my bedroom wall in California. Where are the progressives, liberals? Sadly silent for the last years!

  6. Esther Dovichin
    February 9, 2024 at 15:49

    Is there no one of outstanding influence, personal and/or political who can approach our U. S President Biden and his advisors, to consider the resounding impact of yet another (exceedingly fine) reason to vote for Biden in 2024. My thought is on the great importance of boldness: LIBERTY is an enormously important American value. With the evidence showing clearly that Julian Assange broke no laws; his respect for American liberty of knowledge, facts, and providing the “informed” on which a successful democracy is conditioned. NOT lolly-coddling the American taxpayers/voters as has historically been done, deeply detrimentally, to democratic processes for decades even as monied interests keep compounding the effective use of power to serve the few only – in a land of millions of people. The ruthless and manipulating rich man in the house built unsustainably high on the hill overlooking the town MUST NOT be favored (by our American public or any actualized citizen of the world) over the individual citizen who calls out despotic wrongs for what they are. As with an individual, a nation – even something of an empire of a nation – must face his/her/its “dark side” – and with real and empathetic, emotional and social support (& healthy self love) – living in liberty and knowledge becomes the finest version of himself/herself/itself.
    The political “Right” will scream; it always does, no matter what. That’s where the courageous boldness does its best work, as the facts and “underdog” truths are aired (even in a bought-up national media).
    Someone in a position to do so, please step up for Mr. Assange and for all of us.

  7. Dick Kehoe
    February 9, 2024 at 15:37


    • Jack Flanjgan
      February 10, 2024 at 09:03

      Me too Dick and I have said it before, I am 77 years of age and have come to have nothing but anger and contempt to the two major parties and to the gutless and shallow media. Might I add I have the same feelings toward the Australian legal profession as a whole.

      Jack Flanigan

  8. Richard Burrill
    February 9, 2024 at 15:15

    Free Julian Assange now!

Comments are closed.