After meeting with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden today, Human Rights Watch issued a statement reiterating their appeal for his asylum case to be treated fairly. The statement read:

“Edward Snowden has a serious asylum claim that should be considered fairly by Russia or any other country where he may apply,” said Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch. “He should be allowed at least to make that claim and have it heard.”

Snowden has disclosed serious rights violations by the US. But US law does not provide sufficient protection for whistleblowers when classified information is involved. The US has charged Snowden, among other things, with violating the Espionage Act, a vague law that provides no exceptions or defenses to whistleblowers who disclose matters of serious public importance.

Washington’s actions appear to be aimed at preventing Snowden from gaining an opportunity to claim refuge, in violation of his right to seek asylum under international law.

But while human rights organizations and legal experts have pointed out the compelling case for granting Snowden asylum, most of the media continues to treat offers from Latin America as nothing more than governments “thumbing their noses” at the U.S. A front page article in today’s New York Times on the U.S. pressuring Latin American governments to not accept Snowden’s asylum doesn’t quote any organization or individual making the legal case for asylum, but does quote former American ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson:

“What I think is going on among Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua and possibly others is, who can replace Chávez as the main U.S. antagonist?”

The article also points out that the U.S. is threatening these countries, whose only action has been to consider asylum for Snowden, as human rights groups have recommended. The Times quotes an anonymous official:

“There is not a country in the hemisphere whose government does not understand our position at this point,” a senior State Department official focusing on the matter said recently, adding that helping Mr. Snowden “would put relations in a very bad place for a long time to come.”

“If someone thinks things would go away, it won’t be the case,” the official said.

The article also repeats the popular media myth that threatening Ecuador has paid off:

“In some cases, the diplomatic effort seems to have paid off. Ecuador at one point appeared eager to grant Mr. Snowden refuge, but it gradually seemed to back off, saying that it could not even consider his request for asylum unless he was in the country or in one of its embassies abroad.”

In fact, as any one following the issue closely knows, Snowden would certainly get asylum if he arrived on the territory of Ecuador; and so Ecuador’s position as a practical matter is not much different than that of the three Latin American countries who are considered to have offered asylum – the only problem is transportation, or as Snowden described it today:

“… [S]ome governments in Western European and North American states have demonstrated a willingness to act outside the law, and this behavior persists today. This unlawful threat makes it impossible for me to travel to Latin America and enjoy the asylum granted there in accordance with our shared rights.”

It may have been worth pointing out that Amnesty International, for one, described these pressure tactics as “deplorable”, contrary to international law and that it “amounts to a gross violation of his human rights.” Overall, Amnesty’s statements have gone much further than those of Human Rights Watch, referring to Snowden as a whistleblower and arguing that “No one should be charged under any law for disclosing information of human rights violations.” 

To their credit, the Times does point out that a “region that was once a broad zone of American power has become increasingly confident in its ability to act independently.” And therein lies the real story of Latin American governments offering asylum to Snowden; over the last decade the region has experienced a “second independence,” and with it has come the ability to do the right thing, despite (but not in spite) of the efforts of the U.S.