Global perspective Human stories

UN voices serious concerns about US execution of Mexican national

UN voices serious concerns about US execution of Mexican national

The United Nations human rights office has voiced serious concerns about the execution of a Mexican national by United States authorities in defiance of an order from the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

José Ernesto Medellín was executed by the authorities in the US state of Texas by lethal injection on 5 August. This despite the fact that the ICJ, also known as the World Court, ordered the US last month to delay the executions of Mr. Medellín and four other Mexican nationals on death row in its prisons until the court issues a final ruling on the matter.

“The United States has an international legal obligation to comply with decisions of the International Court of Justice, an obligation which cannot be set aside because of domestic constitutional arrangements,” Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told a news conference in Geneva today.

A 2004 ruling by the ICJ, which is based in The Hague, Netherlands, on the same issue found that the US had been in breach of its international obligations because authorities did not inform 51 Mexican nationals of their right to contact their consular representatives “without delay” after being arrested.

“Mr. Medellín had been found guilty of very serious crimes,” stated Mr. Colville. “However, at the time of his arrest, he was not informed of his right to consular assistance in accordance with international treaty obligations under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.”

The Court had ordered that the US take all measures necessary to ensure that Mr Medellín, and others, not be executed until he received a review and reconsideration of his case to determine whether the breach of the Vienna Convention prejudiced his defence. Judgments of the ICJ are binding and cannot be appealed.

OHCHR notes that the ICJ orders remain valid for another 50 Mexican nationals on death row in the US whose situation is similar to that of Mr. Medellín.

“The finality of the death penalty makes it essential that it is applied with scrupulous attention to safeguards set down international law,” noted Mr. Colville. “One of those safeguards is that foreign nationals should have access to consular services.

“This is crucial for the protection of all individuals who travel abroad. It is imperative that all States take every possible action to ensure reciprocal compliance of this safeguard, not least for the sake of their own nationals,” he said.