[Ppnews] Foreigners on US death row denied international appeal

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Sun Mar 13 12:22:34 EST 2005


Foreigners on US death row no longer have right to make international appeal
By Rupert Cornwell in Washington
11 March 2005

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

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.

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