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Where International Law Ain't Law

The very essence of civil liberty certainly consists in the right of every individual to claim the protection of the laws, whenever he receives an injury. One of the first duties of government is to afford that protection. . .

Marbury v. Madison (1803) (quoting Lord Blackstone's Commentaries)

When U. S. President W. J. Clinton was trying to assemble international support for a blitzkrieg bombing run on Baghdad, he claimed the onetime U.S. ally was an "outlaw state" that flaunted "international law."

The Ohio State fiasco, where U.S. diplomats ran into a brick wall of public resistance to their largely incoherent Iraqi policy, began with similar saber-rattling about "violations of international law."

If politicians and defense industry-paid pundits were to be believed, the very allegation of a nation being violative of "international law" sets it apart as an "outlaw state," and therefore a nation to be punished by the "international community." That may be the case for Iraq, or some other formerly Third World, now emergent, nation. But what of a Superpower, a First World nation; like - the U.S.A.?

Recently, a Paraguayan citizen, Angel Breard, held on an American Death Row in Virginia, became a test case as to whether a Superpower was bound by "international law."

When arrested, Mr. Breard was not informed of his right under an international treaty to see a consular official from his home country. Had this occurred, it is probable that he would've been spared a death sentence.

Paraguay filed an appeal with the International Court of Justice, which called on the U.S. Government to "take all measures at its disposal" to halt Mr. Breard's execution, until a full hearing could be had on Paraguan's application to the ICJ. Breard's lawyers filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, one opposed by the U.S. Justice Department, citing the treaty violation. Under U.S. Statutory law on jurisdiction (or the authority of a court to hear a case) any federal court may entertain applications for relief "on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or Treaties of the United States " (28 YSC § 2254).

In English, this means any court is free to grant relief, and, indeed, must do so, if the Constitution, or a Treaty. is violated.

Obviously, however, being a denizen of Death Row excludes one from the status of "person", for, with the exception of the International Court of Justice, no court heard his claim of a clear Treaty violation, and the State of Virginia executed Mr. Breard.

The ICJ ruling, unprecedented in the history of international law, was all but ignored by those sworn to uphold all laws in the U.S.

Just a month before, the U.N. Human Rights Commission assailed the American practice of capital punishment as a system with a "significant degree of unfairness and arbitrariness." Right wing Senator, and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Jesse Helms (R-NC) dismissed the 65-page report issued by the Commission as "an absurd UN Charade."

The Report, written by Mr. Bacre Waly Ndiaye, a Senegalese lawyer and expert in international law, was based on meetings with state and federal officials from across the country, as well as his visits with several death rows.

What is "absurd", it seems, is to actually expect a global empire, no matter what Treaties it signs, to actually abide by international law.

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