FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Katharine Huffman: 202-360-1991
July 16, 2008
INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE ISSUES PROVISIONAL MEASURES TO PREVENT IMMINENT VIOLATION OF U.S. TREATY OBLIGATIONS
U.S. International Relations and Safety of Americans Abroad at Risk As Execution Date Approaches
THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS – The International Court of Justice (ICJ) today determined that the United States must take “all measures necessary” to prevent the executions of José Medellín and four other Mexican nationals sentenced to death in the state of Texas. The order will remain in effect until the ICJ resolves Mexico’s request for interpretation of its 2004 Judgment in Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America).
The Avena case was filed by Mexico on behalf of 51 Mexican nationals who did not receive consular access upon arrest in the United States, in violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. In 2004, the ICJ issued its original decision in the case, determining that each Mexican national was entitled to a judicial hearing to ascertain whether he was harmed by the violation of his Vienna Convention rights.
Despite this binding legal obligation, the United States has failed to provide the judicial hearings mandated by the ICJ’s 2004 judgment in the vast majority of the Avena cases. José Ernesto Medellín, one of the individuals whose Vienna Convention rights were denied, is scheduled for execution in Texas on August 5th.
Attorneys for Medellín applauded the order. “We welcome the ICJ’s order of provisional measures in response to Mexico’s request as a vindication of that institution’s faith in the United States’s political will and ability to enforce the Avena Judgment,” said Donald Francis Donovan of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, New York, counsel to Mexico and to Medellín. “We are confident the United States and the State of Texas will comply with the ICJ’s order and stay the August 5th execution of Mr. Medellín.”
According to international law experts, the situation has implications far beyond the individual cases at issue. Professor Sarah H. Cleveland, Louis Henkin Professor of Human and Constitutional Rights and Co-Director of the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School, expressed concern about how U.S. global governmental allies and business partners will view future international treaties and agreements if the United States fails to honor its international obligations.
“It is critical that the United States abide by the commitments undertaken when we signed and ratified the Vienna Convention,” said Cleveland. “The United States has relied repeatedly on the enforceability of this and other treaty obligations abroad. If we do not keep our promises to our international partners, we lose the ability to protect our own citizens abroad, and damage our nation’s reputation as a reliable player on the world stage.”
On Monday, July 14th, the U.S. Congress introduced the “Avena Case Implementation Act of 2008” in order to implement the ICJ’s Avena judgment. This legislation empowers the federal courts to hear the Vienna Convention claims of foreign nationals who were not advised of their consular rights, including the Mexican nationals named in the Avena judgment. The legislation has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.
Today’s ICJ order came following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Medellín v. Texas. In March of this year, the Court held that the U.S. is under a binding legal obligation to abide by an International Court of Justice ruling requiring review of the cases of Medellín and other Mexican nationals not provided with consular access. But the Supreme Court concluded that Congressional action is necessary to make the Avena Judgment enforceable in U.S. courts.
Although a bill has been introduced in the House, congressional enactment of the legislation would take longer than the few weeks remaining before the August 5th execution date. Postponement of the pending execution is critical so that Congress has adequate time to act in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Texas should stay the pending execution not only out of respect for the ICJ – an international institution that the United States helped build and in which the U.S. has long been a participant – but also out of respect for the U.S. Congress and for the legal obligations that the United States has undertaken to its neighbor, Mexico,” said Gregory Kuykendall, an attorney and Director of the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program. “We would expect no less of Mexico or any other Vienna Convention signatory if the tables were turned.”