Who Cares About Treaty Obligations? Not Texas.

June 30, 2011

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.

Mexico has been at this a while, having brought a case against the U.S. to the International Court of Justice in 2003 on behalf of 51 men facing execution in the U.S., including Leal.  Texas has already executed one of those men, Jose Medellin, despite the ICJ finding the U.S. in clear breach of its treaty obligations.

In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the ICJ’s decision was not binding without legislation from Congress. Such legislation has now been introduced, with widespread support from the U.S. government, including the Departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security and State.

Unless they hear from a lot of people, Texas officials are unlikely to care about U.S. treaty obligations, particularly those that interfere with the enterprise of prisoner killing.  But hopefully Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court will.