Foreigners on US death row no longer have right to make international appeal

Click to follow
The Independent US

Showing its impatience with outside interference in the US system of capital punishment, the Bush administration has pulled out of an international protocol that allowed foreigners on death row to take their cases to the World Court.

Showing its impatience with outside interference in the US system of capital punishment, the Bush administration has pulled out of an international protocol that allowed foreigners on death row to take their cases to the World Court.

In a two-paragraph letter to Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State told him that the US "hereby withdraws" from the optional protocol, part of the 1969 Vienna Convention on consular relations. It stipulates that signatories must allow the International Court of Justice ((ICJ) in the Hague - the World Court - to have the final say in cases where foreign citizens say they have been denied access to their own consular officials when jailed abroad.

The letter, dated 7 March, came three weeks before the US Supreme Court was due to hear the case of Ernesto Medellin, a Mexican on death row in Texas, who is asking for a World Court ruling made last year in favour of Mexico to be enforced. But the appeal may now be moot.

Just 10 days ago the Bush administration, not known for its friendliness to international institution - astounded many observers by agreeing that the Mr Medellin and 50 other Mexicans on US state death rows should be granted new court hearings, in line with the ICJ demand. But those hearings will be the last. The withdrawal, a State Department spokesman said, would ensure that in future the ICJ would not be able to interfere in cases involving foreigners, and thus "supervise or disrupt our domestic criminal system".

There are currently 118 foreign nationals condemned to death in the US, including one Briton, Linda Carty, who was born in St Kitts.

The withdrawal comes at a moment when outside pressures on the US judicial system - in particular its use of capital punishment - are a highly sensitive issue. Only 10 days ago the Supreme Court was fiercely criticised by conservatives here when it banned the execution of juvenile offenders, with a majority opinion that cited, among other reasons, "international norms".

A similar attitude also partly explains Washington's enduring refusal to subscribe to the International Criminal Court, set up under the aegis of the UN, which it claims is another intrusion into US judicial sovereignty.

The Medellin case has become an additional bone of contention between the US and Mexico, when the two countries are already at odds over immigration and cross-border crime. Washington's latest move was certain to feature during Ms Rice's visit to Mexico City yesterday, which aimed to improve bilateral relations ahead of a meeting between Vicente Fox, Mexico's President, and President Bush at the latter's Texas ranch later this month.

The US had signed up to the Vienna protocol to protect its own citizens abroad. Indeed, Washington was the first country to invoke it, when Washington won a judgment from the ICJ against Iran when 52 US citizens were taken hostage in Tehran in 1979. The US will not now be able to use the convention to assist its citizens overseas.

Comments