Mexico Challenges U.S. On Death Penalty Cases
By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
MEXICO CITY, Jan. 9 -- Mexico filed a complaint against the United States
in the International Court of Justice today charging that American officials
violated the rights of all 54 Mexicans on death row in the United States and asking that their executions be commuted.
In its filing with the U.N. court in The Hague, Mexico argued that the
United States violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which
access to their country's diplomatic missions when accused of a crime in a foreign country.
Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo, the Foreign Ministry lawyer who filed the
complaint, said state and local courts in the United States regularly assign
defendants public defenders who "speak little or no Spanish and have no experience in death penalty cases." He said if the courts followed the treaty, Mexican
consulates would provide defendants Spanish-speaking lawyers who are well-versed in U.S. capital cases, which would greatly improve chances of a fair trial.
"It's the difference between life and death," Gomez said.
Mexico has asked the court to recommend that the United States stay all 54 executions until the court rules.
It has also asked the court to recommend that the death sentences be
reduced to life in prison and that the men be granted new trials with lawyers
provided by the
Of the 54 Mexicans on death row, 28 are in California, 16 are in Texas
and the others are in Oregon, Oklahoma, Illinois, Arizona, Nevada, Florida,
Ohio, Gomez said.
A U.S. government official said 100,000 Mexican nationals are in U.S.
prisons, so sheer numbers make it difficult to comply with the Vienna Convention.
addition, he said, because the United States has so many local law enforcement agencies, it has been difficult to educate all of them about the treaty.
Today's filing follows an emotional case last August in which Texas
executed a Mexican man, Javier Suarez Medina, after President Vicente Fox
Bush and the state's governor, Rick Perry, to argue that Suarez's rights had been violated. Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the
European Union and various human rights groups also asked that Texas stay the execution pending a review of Mexico's objections.
But Suarez, who killed an undercover U.S. drug agent in 1988, was executed by lethal injection.
The case became a national crusade in Mexico, and Fox, with the backing
of all political parties here, canceled a scheduled visit with Bush at
his Crawford, Tex.,
ranch to show his displeasure. Mexico has no death penalty -- or even a punishment of life in prison -- and many Mexicans believe capital punishment is
disproportionately applied to Mexicans and other minorities in the United States.
"What Mexico has done here is very important, and the people who are
going to benefit most from this are Americans," said Sandra Babcock, a
working with the Mexican government.
Babcock said governments of the 164 other countries that have signed
the treaty are less likely to honor it if the United States ignores it,
which could have grave
consequences for Americans arrested abroad.
Babcock said that although the State Department has tried to educate
local law enforcement agencies about the treaty, there are no sanctions
in U.S. law for