Mexico sues U.S. in World Court

Mexico filed suit in the World Court of International Justice in the Hague against the United States, Jan. 21, for violating international law and the human rights of Mexican citizens in this country. Mexican citizens are rarely afforded the right to consult with their country’s counsul, Mexico charged.

The brief to the World Court points out the quality of justice provided to Mexicans arrested in the United States is often abysmally bad, with cases of frame-ups and denial of adequate legal counsel being frequent.

The U.S. death penalty is also at issue. There are currently 51 Mexican citizens on death row in the United States. There were 54 when the suit was prepared, but Governor George Ryan of Illinois commuted the death sentences for three of them; 28 Mexican citizens are under sentence of death in California, 16 in Texas, and one each in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma and Oregon. Mexico does not have the death penalty.

The suit charges the U.S. with violating the rights of both Mexico as a nation and Mexican citizens within the United States, by ignoring its obligations under Article 36 of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Under the Convention, any country that arrests a foreign citizen of a signatory country must give that citizen the right to consult with consular officials of his or her home country.

U.S. citizens arrested in Mexico demand this right and it is generally granted. But Mexico complains that its conformance to the treaty is not reciprocated.

The Mexican brief to the World Court gives a brief synopsis of each of these cases, exposing that both local and federal governments simply ignored the Article 36 requirement to permit consular contact. The Mexican government alleges that in many of the cases, such contact would have greatly improved the defense resources available to the accused Mexican citizen, perhaps keeping many off death row. The brief describes the efforts, which the Mexican government has made over the years to get the U.S. federal government, state governments and federal courts to recognize their obligations under the Vienna Convention.

U.S. courts have turned down Mexico’s request that denial of consular contact be considered in the same light as denial of other due process guarantees, i.e., that it would be a cause for ordering a new trial.

A Texas case, involving the execution of Mexican citizen Ireneo Tristan Montoya in 1997, illustrates the problem. When the Mexican government asked for a stay of execution of Montoya, on the grounds that he was not allowed to consult with the Mexican consulate, it did not even get a response from the Texas authorities (George W. Bush was governor at that time). Subsequently the Texas state government alleged that the Vienna Convention did not apply to Mr. Montoya’s case, as only the U.S. government and not the government of Texas had signed the Convention.

The Mexican government had previously taken the same complaint to the Interamerican Court of Human Rights and got a ruling against the United States in 1999, which the United States has ignored.

This past August, President Fox canceled a meeting with President Bush after another Mexican was executed in the US after having been denied consular contact.

In the past, the United States has defied rulings of the World Court, for example, when the U.S. was convicted of illegally mining the harbors of Nicaragua.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org