Acting on a claim by Mexico’s government that the U.S. government has not done enough to assure the treaty rights of Mexican nationals facing execution for murders in the U.S., the World Court on Wednesday ordered the U.S. — by a 7-5 vote — to stop five imminent executions in Texas.
Leaving it up to the U.S. to choose the way to carry out the order, the international tribunal — formally, the International Court of Justice that sits in The Hague, Netherlands — told the U.S. only to “take all measures necessary to ensure” that Texas does not execute five individuals on its death row.
The World Court issued its order to assure that the Mexicans remain alive until the tribunal can resolve a new dispute over the global obligations of the U.S. government — a dispute that has already led to two decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. member of the tribunal, Thomas Buergenthal, dissented on all points of Wednesday’s ruling. On the key issue of the order to delay the Texas executions, Buergenthal was joined by judges from Japan, Slovakia, New Zealand and Russia.
Depending upon how the U.S. government and the state of Texas respond, the case could affect first the execution of Jose Ernesto Medellin Rojas, scheduled for August 5. It also is meant to apply to the executions of Cesar Roberto Fierro Reyna, who may have an execution date set with 30 days’ notice, and of Ruben Ramirez Cardenas, Humberto Leal Garcia and Roberto Moreno Ramos, who may have execution dates set on 90 days’ notice.
Mexico contends that those five were denied their rights under the Vienna Convention to be told, after their arrest and during their prosecution for murders in Texas, that they had a right to consult with a diplomat from their own country. The U.S. government has admitted that their rights under the treaty were violated, but it has been unable up to now to stop their executions.
On March 25, in the case of one of these five (Medellin v. Texas, 06-984), the Supreme Court ruled by a 6-3 vote that a 2004 ruling by the World Court in favor of 51 Mexican nationals could not be enforced against Texas, either by direct action by President Bush or by the authority of the World Court itself. That ruling led Mexico, on June 5, to return to the World Court to ask for further legal help to assure the Mexicans their treaty rights. (Mexico’s application to the World Court can be downloaded here. At the same time, Mexico asked for an interim order to block the five executions; it is here. Those five death row inmates are the only ones who have completed all appeals.)