US told to review cases of death-row Mexicans

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The Independent US

America was ordered yesterday to review the case of more than 50 Mexicans held on death row after the International Court of Justice said the prisoners' rights had been violated.

America was ordered yesterday to review the case of more than 50 Mexicans held on death row after the International Court of Justice said the prisoners' rights had been violated.

The court said that the US authorities had prevented the 51 prisoners from contacting officials from Mexicoto help defend them. In doing so, the US had breached the 1963 Vienna Convention, the court said.

Judge Shi Jiuyong, sitting in The Hague in the Netherlands, said: "The US should provide, by means of its own choosing, meaningful review of the conviction and sentence [of the prisoners]." The convention states that people accused of a serious crime while in a foreign country are given the right to contact their own government for help. They should be informed of that right by the arresting authorities.

Juan Manuel Gomez, a Mexican lawyer, argued in hearings in December that his country did not dispute America's right to impose the death penalty for the most serious crimes. But he said it would be wrong if Mexican citizens were abused by a system they did not understand. The only fair solution, he said, would be to start the legal processes again. Washingtonargued that the matter was a sovereignty issue. William Taft, a US lawyer, said the prisoners had received fair trials and, if they had not got consular help, the remedy "must be left to the United States".

Human Rights Watch, based in New York, said: "Today's decision could make the difference between life and death for foreigners prosecuted in the United States. Access to consular officials is not a mere legal technicality, it is the gateway to a fair trial." Under the court's statute, its judgments are "binding, final and without appeal", but the US has ignored some of its rulings.

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