The International Court of Justice (sometimes called the World Court–and not to be confused with the International Criminal Court) is a forum where United Nations member states can hash out legal disputes in a neutral setting. The cases can range from the somewhat banal (like a dispute between Ukraine and Romania over Black Sea maritime rights) to the highly contentious (like Bosnia accusing Serbia of committing genocide in the 1990s).
One of the more contentious cases before the court is Mexico’s action against the United States to stay the execution of Mexican nationals being held on death row. The case of one of these Mexican nationals went all the way to the Supreme Court this year. In 1993, Jose E. Medellin confessed to raping and killing two teenage girls in Texas and was sentenced to death. The catch, though, is that under the 1963 Vienna Convention, foreign nationals have the right to notify their consulate when detained. Medellin was not given that right, so Mexico sued the United States at the International Court of Justice on his and other nationals behalf.
In March, the Supreme Court ruled that Medellin’s execution can go ahead, despite the World Court’s ruling. (Technically, the Supreme Court ruled that the Bush Administration had no right to tell the state of Texas to re-open the case, per the ICJ’s direction). Mexico, however, has not given up. The case is still pending at the ICJ and yesterday the court once again ordered the United States to stay the execution of five Mexican nationals on death row.
Julian Ku of Opinio Juris explains some of the technicalities of yesterday’s ruling and makes a prediction of his own:
The U.S. Supreme Court will reject any efforts to enforce this ICJ order. Texas will also ignore it and go ahead and execute the said Mexican nationals. In this way, the U.S. will act in admitted violation of its international law obligations under Article 92 and the ICJ Statute, thus further exposing the ICJ’s orders as having no domestic legal significance and of relatively little moral significance either. Congress has other things on its mind, and there won’t even be a bill introduced to try to give effect to the ICJ order. The presidential candidates won’t even be asked about their views on this order. But I suppose Mexico’s lawyers have to try everything they can, and I can’t fault them for pulling out all the stops, no matter how hopeless.
He’s probably right. That said, I know if I were arrested in a foreign land, I’d want access to my consulate.
(Image: The Peace Palace in the Hague, seat of the ICJ. Credit: The Hague Justice Portal)