World Court Decision and US Adherence to the Vienna Convention

As a former Foreign Service officer, I am pleased that the World Court has ordered American courts to review the death sentences of 51 Mexicans who have been sentenced to death in the US without being advised of their right under the Vienna Convention to consult with a Mexican consul. See New York Times article on the decision.

My first Foreign Service assignment was to Sao Paulo, Brazil, as a consular officer, where one of my jobs was to visit Americans who had been arrested in Brazil, to assure that they were treated properly. Shortly before I arrived, there were allegations that an American in Recife had been tortured after he was arrested. So, we tried to make sure that we were granted immediate access to all arrested Americans as provided for under the Vienna Convention. I am disappointed that while the US has traditionally insisted on this right for Americans overseas, we have not granted the same rights to foreigners arrested in the US.

The World Court did not claim to reverse any of the convictions, but it did say that the US erred in not advising the Mexicans of their rights under the Vienna Convention, or in not automatically notifying Mexican officials when one of their nationals was arrested. I am not worried that foreigners will be tortured in the US (athough that is more of a possibility with John Ashcroft as Attorney General), but I am worried that if the US disregards the Vienna Convention, we will not be able to insist that other nations obey it, and thus American citizens may be subject to poor treatment in foreign jails.

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