Executions in 2018: min. 690 plus 'thousands' in China

Letter writing campaign concerning the adoption of the ICJ decision in the Avena Case as American domestic law

In its ruling on March 23rd 2008, a majority of Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court decided in the case Medellin v. Texas that a binding decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) requiring judicial remedies for consular rights violations in the USA is not enforceable in the domestic courts. Although issued under the authority of the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the ICJ Statute and the UN Charter, the ICJ decision in Avena and Other Mexican Nationals is not enforceable domestically because the authorizing treaties had not been transformed into domestic law by Congress (even though each treaty was signed by the US and ratified by the Senate).  

As a result of this failure to enforce binding treaty obligations, U.S. citizens abroad may be deprived of access to consular assistance upon arrest. Read the Dallas Morning News editorial: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/editorials/stories/DN-scotus_27edi.ART.State.Edition1.161c416.html

There is a solution: The US Congress needs to adopt the ICJ decision in the Avena Case as domestic law.  

In order to achieve this the German Coalition to Abolish the Death penalty asked everyone to join our appeal. We have drafted an open letter to the US Congress (see below) in March 2008. With this letter we also started a letter writing action and asked organizations all over the world but also individuals to send letters with similar content to the members of Congress and members of the US Senate themselves.  

This issue is not restricted to capital punishment cases and therefore we were addressing all groups that may wish to support our goal, not only human rights activists but also NGOs, organizations and associations of all kinds such as religious communities, sports clubs etc.  

On 14 July 2008, a bill known as the 'Avena Case Implementation Act' was introduced in the US House of Representatives. Under its terms, Jose Medellin and other affected foreign nationals would be granted access to ‘appropriate remedies’  through the domestic courts for VCCR violations, including the reversal ‘of the conviction or sentence, where appropriate.’ Unfortunately this bill did not get decided on and today we still wait for the American government to act on this important matter.  

Text of the open letter of the German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

Dear Members of Congress,

The U.S. Supreme Court's recent disposition of the case of Medellin v. Texas raises serious concerns, both for foreign nationals in the United States and for the treatment of U.S. citizens abroad. The Court has declared that the decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States) is not binding under domestic law, despite the U.S. Senate's full ratification of the treaties conferring jurisdiction on the ICJ in that case, and despite an order by President Bush urging state court compliance with the Avena Judgment.

Addressing claims brought by Mexico under a compulsory dispute settlement mechanism agreed to by the United States, the ICJ found that the U.S. had violated its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations in the cases of 51 death-sentenced Mexican nationals by failing to advise them of their consular notification rights after their arrests. The ICJ held that the necessary remedy is for the domestic courts to provide "review and reconsideration" in each case, in order to determine if the lack of prompt access to consular assistance was harmful to any of the defendants. State rules of procedure may not be applied to prevent the "review and reconsideration" of these convictions and sentences, since the Vienna Convention requires that local laws and regulations must give "full effect" to the consular rights that the treaty confers. As the Supreme Court recognized, U.S. compliance with the Avena Judgment is a binding obligation under international law.

However, by concluding that the ICJ Judgment is not enforceable domestically, the Medellin decision leaves the United States in violation of its binding treaty obligations but without any prospect of remedies from the judicial or the executive branches. This unacceptable situation may prompt police departments nationwide to ignore the Vienna Convention's consular information and notification requirements for foreign detainees, as happened in the cases of José Ernesto Medellín and the fifty other Mexican nationals whose Avena claims were disposed of in the Medellin decision. Foreign nationals arrested on serious charges must be able to count on the prompt access to consular notification and assistance that the Vienna Convention guarantees, a protection that in many cases is as essential to a fair trial as the right to counsel.

In addition, as the dissenting Justices observed, failing to comply with the United States' binding treaty commitments runs the risk of "precipitating actions by other nations putting at risk American citizens who have the misfortune to be arrested while traveling abroad, or of diminishing our Nation’s reputation abroad as a result of our failure to follow the ‘rule of law’ principles that we preach.”

The Medellin decision's pick-and-choose approach to treaty compliance raises a serious question for the international community: is the United States bound by its word, or not? Are the nations of the world expected to retain constitutional scholars to determine if and when a proposed treaty will bind the United States? Or can other nations presume that when the United States of America signs a treaty through its authorized representative, and ratifies it through the U.S. Senate, that treaty will be worth the paper on which it is printed?

There is a solution. The Supreme Court has laid the responsibility for America's credibility in the world squarely on the shoulders of the Congress of the United States. The U.S. Congress has the power -- and the moral obligation -- to adopt the ICJ judgment on Vienna Convention remedies as domestic law.

We urge Congress to implement the limited and reasonable remedies required under the ICJ Judgment in Avena and Other Mexican Nationals, thus assuring the world that a promise made by the United States is a promise kept.

The undersigned,

Become involved

If you would love to do something against the death penalty but you just don’t have the time to become an active member of an organization and pen friendships have never been just the thing for you?  

There are many different ways one can become involved. We’ve collected a few ideas what can be done on these pages.