Can the United States find a way to respect a simple treaty obligation? One of such obvious importance for protecting Americans traveling abroad? We’ll find out within a week.
Under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, foreign nationals who are arrested while abroad have the right to contact their consulate “without delay” for legal assistance. However, Texas authorities never informed Mexican national Humberto Leal of this right.
Now, the case of Humberto Leal, due to be executed on July 7 for the 1994 murder of a 16-year-old girl in San Antonio, has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The Government of Mexico has filed an amicus brief in support of Leal’s Supreme Court petition, noting that the United States has continued to be a “forceful advocate” for Americans detained in Mexico, and urging the U.S. government to uphold its end of the treaty.
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Humberto Leal faces execution on July 7 in Texas for the 1994 murder of a 16-year-old girl in San Antonio. As a Mexican national, Leal was supposed to be informed that he could contact his diplomatic representatives for legal assistance, but he was never told this.
The Vienna Convention of Consular Relations (VCCR) is a treaty that requires any foreign national arrested outside their own country to be notified of their right to contact their consulate or embassy for help. This applies to US citizens traveling in Mexico (or anywhere else) just as much as to Mexican citizens inside the USA. Obviously for Americans abroad this is a pretty important protection. Unfortunately, US authorities don’t always respect this right when arresting non-US citizens; and some, like Leal, have ended up on death row.
Leal was one of 51 Mexican nationals on US death rows who challenged this pattern of neglect in the US, and in 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in Mexico’s favor. Executing Humberto Leal now would be a flagrant violation of international law.
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This week, on December 15, 2009, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law held the first ever Congressional hearing on U.S. implementation of its human rights treaty obligations. The hearing examined what the U.S. government is doing and should be doing more of, to fulfill its obligations to protect and promote human rights domestically and abroad.
Subcommittee Chair Durbin (D-IL), along with Senators Cardin (D-MD), Feingold (D-WI) and Franken (D-MN), expressed deep concern and commitment to ensuring that the U.S. continues to lead by example on the international stage, by prioritizing and addressing the numerous human rights issues that currently exist within the U.S., including issues around detention, child trafficking, Indigenous rights, and discrimination, to name just a few.
Amnesty International submitted written testimony for the hearing, which included expert testimony by key members of the administration as well as representatives of top domestic and international human rights organizations. A copy of this testimony is available if you are interested.