The World Court Bites Us Again

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, last Monday rendered its Judgment in the case concerning the Request for Interpretation of the Judgment of 31 March 2004 in the case concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America) also known as the “Avena Judgment.” In its application of 5 June 2008, Mexico asked the Court to interpret paragraph 153 (9) of the Avena Judgment. Read more here:

The Word Court
unanimously “finds that the United States of America has breached the obligation incumbent upon it under the Order indicating provisional measures of 16 July 2008, in the case of Mr. José Ernesto Medellín Rojas.”

The proceedings go back to 2003, when Mexico brought a case against the United States, arguing that 51 of its citizens sentenced to die in U.S. jails had not been informed of their right to consular assistance. This right to consular notification means diplomats can visit, and facilitate legal representation for their nationals in detention (they cannot give legal advice). Former President George W. Bush had ordered Texas to review Medellin’s case but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Bush had no authority to do so.

In 2004 Human Rights Watch reports that at least twenty foreign nationals have been executed in the United States in the last decade, nearly all without consular notification. And that more than 120 foreign nationals from 29 countries were on death row in the United States at that time. It also noted that in the past, “the United States has used the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention to protect its citizens abroad. After 52 American hostages were taken in Iran in 1979, the United States sued Iran in the World Court using the protocol, and the court ruled in favor of the United States. HRW also points out that now if an American overseas is arrested and not allowed access to U.S. consular officials in that country, the United States will not be able to hold that country accountable in the World Court.”

Here is the link to the Jurist: Legal News and Research with extensive links to the documents in this case. You may also read the Wikipedia entry on Medellin v. Texas here with extensive sources on the case.

reports that “State Department officials have said the international ruling will not help other foreign inmates in U.S. prisons, because federal officials cannot force states to comply. Administration officials also said that the president did all he could to force state compliance and that Congress now needs to intervene with specific legislation.”

In a related news, Reuters quotes John Bellinger, legal adviser at the U.S. Department of State as saying that the United States accepts that the original 2004 ruling places on it a binding legal obligation, but adding that it was disappointing the court had held that Medellin’s execution violated international law. Bellinger also said he did not believe that the case and the U.S. withdrawal from an optional protocol to the Vienna Convention would put U.S. citizens abroad at greater risk.
“We remain absolutely committed to providing consular notification inside the United States and we expect that our nationals around the world will be provided consular notification,” he said.

I wonder if he actually believes that.

Related Post:

Joe Tourist and the Medellin Case