U.S. Withdraws from ICJ Death Penalty Protocol
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for 51 Mexicans on death rows in the United States, the State Department said yesterday that the United States had withdrawn from the protocol that gave the tribunal jurisdiction to hear such disputes.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.
The memorandum, issued in connection with a case the United States Supreme Court is scheduled to hear this month, puzzled state prosecutors, who said it seemed inconsistent with the administration’s general hostility to international institutions and its support for the death penalty. The withdrawal announced yesterday helps explains the administration’s position.
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.”
The Bush administration has decided to pull out of an international agreement that opponents of the death penalty have used to fight the sentences of foreigners on death row in the United States, officials said yesterday. In a two-paragraph letter dated March 7, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice informed U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that the United States “hereby withdraws” from the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The United States proposed the protocol in 1963 and ratified it — along with the rest of the Vienna Convention — in 1969.
The protocol requires signatories to let the International Court of Justice (ICJ) make the final decision when their citizens say they have been illegally denied the right to see a home-country diplomat when jailed abroad. The United States initially backed the measure as a means to protect its citizens abroad. It was also the first country to invoke the protocol before the ICJ, also known as the World Court, successfully suing Iran for the taking of 52 U.S. hostages in Tehran in 1979. But in recent years, other countries, with the support of U.S. opponents of capital punishment, successfully complained before the World Court that their citizens were sentenced to death by U.S. states without receiving access to diplomats from their home countries.
This strikes me as an odd move. One certainly doesn’t want to surrender sovereingty of one’s domestic law enforcement to an international body, let alone one under the auspices of the corrupt and inept United Nations. Still, the requirement to let foreign nationals meet with consular officials doesn’t seem particularly onerous and the protection of Americans abroad, especially in Third World countries, would seem worth that price.
Correction: Changed title to better reflect the story. As commenter RG points out, the US withdrew only from a specific protocol, not the ICJ itself.