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U.N. Court Orders U.S. to Review Cases of Mexicans

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  • U.N. Court Orders U.S. to Review Cases of Mexicans

    Opinions, taking into consideration states rights.

    THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- The International Court of Justice ruled Wednesday that the United States violated the rights of 51 Mexicans on death row and ordered their cases be reviewed.

    The United Nations' highest judiciary, also known as the world court, was considering a suit filed by Mexico claiming 52 convicted murderers weren't given their right to assistance from their government.

    ``The U.S. should provide by means of its own choosing meaningful review of the conviction and sentence'' of the Mexicans, presiding judge Shi Jiuyong said.

    Shi said the review, in all but three cases, could be carried out under the normal appeals process in the United States.

    But for three men who have already exhausted all other appeals, the court said the United States should make an exception and review their cases one last time.

    The court found that in the remaining case, the convict had received his rights and his case didn't need to be reviewed.

    Mexican officials praised the ruling as ``a triumph of international law'' and said they were confident the United States would comply with the court's order.

    Arturo Dajer, a legal adviser with Mexico's Foreign Relations Department, said it will be an important legal tool for Mexican inmates in the United States.

    ``Of course we have full confidence that the United States will comply with the court's ruling,'' Dajer said, adding that if it doesn't, Mexico could ask the U.N. Security Council to issue a resolution urging it to do so.

    ``Mexico was not vindicated. The rule of international law was vindicated. Of course we are confident the United States will fully comply with the ruling,'' said Juan Gomez Robledo, Mexico's ambassador to the Netherlands.

    He said Mexico ``doesn't contest the United States' right as a sovereign country to impose the death penalty for the most grave crimes,'' but wants to make sure Mexico's citizens aren't abused by a foreign legal system they don't always understand.

    Washington had no immediate reaction. U.S. Ambassador Clifford Sobel referred comments to the Justice Department.

    Even if Washington accepts the decision, it was unclear if federal authorities will be able to enforce it or compel individual states to abide by it.

    Under the court's statute, its judgments are ``binding, final and without appeal.'' Its rulings have rarely been ignored.

    At the heart of the Mexico-U.S. case is the 1963 Vienna Convention, which guarantees people accused of a serious crime while in a foreign country the right to contact their own government for help, and that they be informed of that right by arresting authorities.

    The world court is charged with resolving disputes between nations and has jurisdiction over the treaty. It found that U.S. authorities hadn't properly informed the 51 men of their rights when they realized they were foreigners.

    In hearings in December, lawyers for Mexico argued that any U.S. citizen accused of a serious crime abroad would want the same right, and the only fair solution for the men allegedly denied diplomatic help was to start their legal processes all over again.

    The United States had argued the case was a sovereignty issue, and that the 15-judge tribunal should be wary of allowing itself to be used as a criminal appeals court, which is not its mandate.

    U.S. lawyer William Taft argued the prisoners had received fair trials. He said even if the prisoners didn't get consular help, the way to remedy the wrong ``must be left to the United States.''

    In its written arguments, the United States said Mexico's request would be a ``radical intrusion'' into the U.S. justice system, contradicting laws and customs in every city and state in the nation.

    ``The court has never ordered any form of restitution nearly as far reaching as that sought by Mexico,'' the arguments said.

    The three men whose cases the court ordered specially reviewed were Cesar Fierro and Roberto Ramos, both in prison in Texas, and Osbaldo Aguilera Torres, in Oklahoma.

    Other Mexicans are on death row in California, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Oregon.

    In November, the U.S. Supreme Court declined without comment to hear an appeal from Torres based on the Vienna Convention, although Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer wrote opinions.

    ``It surely is reasonable to presume that most foreign nationals are unaware of the provisions of the Vienna Convention (as are, it seems, many local prosecutors),'' Stevens wrote.

    Torres had been scheduled to be executed May 18.

    In all, there are 121 foreign citizens on U.S. death row, 55 of whom are Mexican, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

    In 2001, a similar case came before the court filed by Germany to stop the execution of two German brothers who also had not been informed of their right to consular assistance. One brother was executed before the court could act. The judges ordered a stay of execution for the second brother, Walter LaGrand, until it could deliberate, but he was executed anyway by Arizona.

    When the court finally ruled in 2001, it chastised the U.S. government for not halting the LaGrand execution, and rejected arguments that Washington was powerless to intervene in criminal cases under the authority of the individual states.

    Mexican President Vicente Fox canceled a visit to President Bush's ranch in 2002 to protest the execution of a Mexican citizen not mentioned in the world court suit. The visit finally took place earlier this month.

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