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Court: U.S. Violated International Law

Associated Press, June 27, 2001
http://washingtonpost.com/Off-site Link


usa, human rights, usa human rights violations, death penalty, germany, vienna convention on consular relations, karl and walter lagrand, religion news report provides news of interest to those who work in Christian apologetics and countercult ministriesn.  It includes information about religious cults, sects, new religious movements, and related issues, such as religious freedom, religious tolerance, and cult crimes.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands The United States violated the rights of Germany and two of its citizens when it denied the condemned brothers access to their consulate before executing them in 1999 for murder, the World Court ruled Wednesday.

The U.N. court also found that its order to the U.S. government to postpone the execution which was ignored by the state of Arizona was not merely a request but a legal obligation.

Karl and Walter LaGrand were executed in Arizona for stabbing to death a 63-year-old bank manager in the town of Mirana during a botched robbery in 1982. Another employee was seriously injured.

The German consulate learned of the case 10 years later in 1992, when the brothers already had gone through a series of appeals in U.S. courts.

Karl LaGrand, 35, received a lethal injection on Feb. 24, 1999. On March 3, the day before Walter LaGrand's scheduled execution, Germany filed its case in the World Court and the court asked the U.S. government to delay the execution until it could consider the case.

Gilbert Guillaume, president of the United Nations court formally known as the International Court of Justice said the U.S. efforts to stay Walter LaGrand's execution were "certainly less than should have been done."

The court's verdict is binding and not subject to appeal, but the World Court has no independent means to enforce compliance. If one side feels the other has failed to live up to a court ruling, it can ask the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions.

The court's jurisdiction is generally determined by the willingness of both parties to have their dispute heard. However, Germany and the United States both ratified the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Rights, which requires that such disputes be heard before the World Court.

The court's judges voted 14-1 that the United States breached its obligations to Germany and to the brothers under the Vienna Convention.
(...)

The ruling also affirmed the court's authority to order national courts to adhere to its temporary injunctions. It said the request that the United States stay the execution had not been a "mere exhortation, but created a legal obligation."
(...)

The World Court intervened for the first time in a death penalty case in 1998, demanding that the United States spare the life of a Paraguayan sentenced to die in Virginia for murder and attempted rape. Angel Francisco Breard argued that he was not informed of his right to assistance from the Paraguayan consul after his arrest, and consul officials said they would have advised him to handle his case differently.

The United States did not deny the mistake and apologized, but argued that the lack of consular help had no bearing on the trial's outcome. He was executed a week later.

Although the court did not deal with the legal or moral issue of capital punishment in the current case, the case highlighted the divergent views of Europe and the United States. The death penalty has been abolished in all member states of the European Union.

The ruling could open the possibility of intervention in the death sentences of other foreign nationals on death row in the United States, court officials said on condition of anonymity. In their opening statements, German officials cited an Amnesty International report which said 87 foreigners had been condemned to death in the United States between June and November of 2000.

James Thessin, a State Department legal adviser, said Washington considers consular notification an important right "for foreign nationals in the United States and a right that is important for Americans overseas."

The United States admitted its failure to notify the German consulate and apologized to Germany. But during his two-hour reading of the judgment, court president Guillaume said an "apology is not sufficient."

The 15-member court also acknowledged the U.S. government had already taken action to redress its shortcomings, setting up a department to deal with consular issues involving arrested foreign nationals.
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Commentary:
The publisher of Apologetics Index is a member of Amnesty International, and opposes the death penalty. Concerned about America's growing record of human rights violations, he welcomes increased international scrutiny of U.S. behavior.



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