Texas executes Mexican despite ICJ ruling 07 Aug 2008
Despite the ICJ ruling of 16 July indicating that the US should not proceed with the execution before the Avena case had been settled before the International Court of Justice, José Medellín has been put to death in Texas.

International Court of JusticeJosé Ernesto Medellín—a Mexican national convicted for his part in the rape and murder of two teenage girls in 1993—was executed by the US state of Texas on the night of Tuesday 5 August 2008 (early Wednesday morning in Europe).

The case of Medellín and 50 other Mexican nationals sentenced to death in the United States has been the subject of ongoing proceedings before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in the Avena case.1

Mexico brought the case before the Court after it emerged that the convicts on death row had not been informed of their right to consular assistance at the time of their arrest.

‘Stay on executions’

In a decision of 16 July 2008, the ICJ ruled on the request for the indication of provisional measures submitted by Mexico. The Court indicated, by seven votes to five, that “the United States shall take all measures necessary to ensure that [the Mexican indictees] are not executed pending judgment on the request for interpretation submitted by Mexico”.

Mexico initially instigated proceedings in the case before the ICJ (often referred to as the ‘World Court’) in 2003.

Medellín was the first of the individuals to be executed, although the executions of four more of the convicts are imminent.

Consular notification ‘without delay’

At the heart of the case was the right of the 51 Mexican nationals to receive consular access at the time of their arrest. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963), which entered into force in the United States on 24 December 1969, states that the authorities shall inform arrested foreign nationals of their right to contact their consular post “without delay”. The ICJ had confirmed this duty in respect to foreigners in other cases brought against the US since 1998.2  

In 2004, the ICJ determined that 51 named Mexican nationals (including Medellín) were entitled to receive review and reconsideration of their convictions and sentences through the judicial process in the United States because they had not been afforded their right to consular assistance.

However, the US Supreme Court (with a 5 to 4 majority) subsequently found that the ICJ decision did not constitute directly enforceable federal law that preempts state law, meaning that individual states (such as Texas) could refuse review of individual cases.

US ‘stumbled in its commitment to international law’

Following the execution, Medellín’s lawyer stated that: “Today the United States has stumbled in its commitment to the rule of law…With this action, our nation has broken a commitment willingly made by our President and our Senate when we agreed to this treaty. We must now hope that other nations stand stronger in their promises than we do, lest our own citizens be placed at risk elsewhere.”

Early on Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon had called on the United States to abide by the ICJ’s decision of 16 July and stay Medellín’s scheduled execution.

‘Avena Case Implementation Act of 2008’

On 14 July, Members of the US House of Representatives introduced a Bill entitled the ‘Avena Case Implementation Act of 2008’ in order to implement the ICJ’s Avena judgment. If passed, this legislation would empower the US federal courts to hear the Vienna Convention claims of foreign nationals who were not advised of their consular rights, including the Mexican nationals named in the Avena judgment.

The legislation has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration, and can be taken up when Congress returns to Washington after its August recess.

Request for Interpretation of the Judgment of 31 March 2004 in the Case concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. USA)

2 See LaGrand (Germany v. United States of America), 1999; and the Breard case (Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (Paraguay v. United States of America)), 1998.

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