Sunday, March 13, 2005

Planning a Trip? Have Another Look at Midnight Express 

On Thursday we learned from our newlywed colleague Rorschach at No Capital (Congratulations! Enjoy the honeymoon! And how long should we expect Light Blogging?) that the Bush administration had decided to withdraw from a protocol of the Vienna Convention that governs diplomatic disputes when a citizen of one country is arrested in another:
Prompted by an international tribunal's decision last year ordering new hearings for 51 Mexicans on death rows in the United States, the State Department said yesterday that the United States had withdrawn from the protocol that gave the tribunal jurisdiction to hear such disputes.

The withdrawal followed a Feb. 28 memorandum from President Bush to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales directing state courts to abide by the decision of the tribunal, the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The decision required American courts to grant "review and reconsideration" to claims that the inmates' cases had been hurt by the failure of local authorities to allow them to contact consular officials . . . .

Darla Jordan, a State Department spokeswoman, said the administration was troubled by foreign interference in the domestic capital justice system but intended to fulfill its obligations under international law.

But Ms. Jordan said, "We are protecting against future International Court of Justice judgments that might similarly interfere in ways we did not anticipate when we joined the optional protocol."
Earlier today Jeralyn Merritt of Talk Left linked to a Human Rights Watch analysis pointing out that the administration's show of pique has stripped American citizens abroad of an important diplomatic protection:
According to a decision by the Bush administration this week, the ICJ, or World Court, will henceforth have no power to hear cases brought by countries on behalf of detained non-citizens in the United States. Americans in the custody of foreign countries who have been denied access to their country’s embassies will also not have access to the ICJ.

“This decision not only violates the rights of foreigners living in the United States, it could also endanger Americans abroad,” said Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. program of Human Rights Watch. “It’s a huge mistake for the United States, for practical reasons as well as legal and moral ones” . . . .

The right to consular notification and assistance is required by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. This right enables governments' officials to provide assistance, including legal counsel, to help ensure fair proceedings for their citizens who may be at a disadvantage in criminal proceedings in foreign countries.
(Thanks to our stouthearted colleague Avedon Carol for the tip.)

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