World Court rules US must stay executions of 3 Mexicans

5 February 2003

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial body of the United Nations that settles disputes between countries, ruled today that pending further investigation the United States must temporarily stay the execution of three Mexican citizens on US death row.

In a unanimous decision, the 15-judge body, often referred to as the World Court, indicated that the US must "take all measures necessary" to ensure that Cesar Fierro Reyna, Roberto Moreno Ramos and Osvaldo Torres Aguilera, are not executed pending its final judgement in the case of Avena and other Mexican nationals v. United States of America. The three men had exhausted their appeals and their execution dates were soon to have been scheduled.

The Court said the delay was needed while the panel investigated whether the men – and 48 other Mexicans on US death row – were given their right to legal help from the Mexican Government.

Mexico had filed a complaint against the US in The Hague-based tribunal on 9 January, charging that US officials in 10 states had "arrested, detained, tried, convicted and sentenced to death no fewer than 54 Mexican nationals" following proceedings in which the competent authorities failed to comply with their obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Reading the decision from The Hague today, Presiding Judge Gilbert Guillaume said the court supported Mexico's argument that executing the men would cause "irreparable" damage to their rights if the court later finds in Mexico's favour. As to the other individuals listed in Mexico's complaint, the Judge stressed that although currently on death row, their execution dates have not been set, but the Court may, "if appropriate, indicate provisional measures in respect to those individuals" before it renders a final judgement in the present case.

Mexico asked the ICJ to recommend that the US stay all 54 executions until the Court issues a ruling. It has also asked the Court to recommend that the death sentences be reduced to life in prison and that the men be granted new trials with lawyers provided by the Mexican Government. The US argued that Mexico's initial request amounted to "a sweeping prohibition of capital punishment of Mexican nationals in the United States regardless of US law" and would infringe on both US national sovereignty and states' rights.

In its order, which has a binding effect for the Parties, the Court indicated that the United States should inform it of all measures to implement the decision. The Court has yet to set a date for when it will hear oral arguments in the case and consider whether the prisoners' rights were indeed violated under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Rights.

 

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