Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

World Court Upholds Foreigners' Right to Contact Their Embassies

Gerardo Valdez, a Mexican citizen who had been scheduled for execution this fall in Oklahoma, was granted an indefinite stay by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in September due to a recent decision from the International Court of Justice, sometimes known as the World Court. That decision extends our famous right of the accused to retain counsel, but this time, the right is extended to foreigners to contact their embassy.

The World Court, the United Nations' highest judicial tribunal, ruled that the United States broke international law in 1999 by executing Karl and Walter LaGrand following their convictions for murder during a botched robbery in Arizona. The Court found that police had failed to inform the two German citizens that they had the right to contact their embassy for help.

Now, lawyers for many of the 100 plus foreigners sitting on death row in the U.S. are seeking new trials because their clients weren't told of their right to seek embassy help. The condemned prisoners must now show that World Court decisions are enforceable in U.S. courts.

Amnesty International is calling on prosecutors to withdraw their objections to new trials when suspects can prove their Vienna Convention rights were violated. "No country which claims to uphold the international rule of law can hold itself above that law,'" said an Amnesty International spokesperson.

The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, ratified by the U.S. in 1969, sets minimum legal protections for nationals of one country traveling in another. The treaty also grants jurisdiction to the World Court to resolve disputes among the signatories.

In 1999, the German government, which opposes the death penalty, filed suit in the World Court, arguing that the rights of the LaGrand brothers had been violated. While the case was pending, the World Court asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the LaGrands' executions. The Supreme Court denied the request and Arizona proceeded with the executions.

In a 14to-1 decision handed down last summer, the World Court sided with Germany saying the U.S. should have granted "review and reconsideration' of the LaGrands' case, a phrase that seems to imply a right of re-trial.

The Court also sharply rebuked the U.S. for dismissing its request for a stay, arguing pointedly that U.S. courts _ including the Supreme Court _ would have to obey the World Court's preliminary injunctions in the future.

Sources: Associated Press reports, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch ,Richmond (Virginia) TimesDispatch ,San Diego UnionTribune ,The Seattle Times ,The Wall Street Journal ,The Washington Post.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login