A Mexican national who was not informed of his right to consular assistance after his arrest, was executed in Texas on Tuesday 5 August.
José Medellín was put to death in violation of the USA’s international legal obligations and despite worldwide appeals for the execution to be stopped, including one from the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.
A last-minute appeal to the US Supreme Court was also unsuccessful, with the Court ruling 5-4 against a stay. The execution went ahead at around 10pm, about four hours later than scheduled.
One of the Justices dissenting from the refusal to stop the execution wrote that to allow it to go forward would leave the USA “irremediably in violation of international law and break our treaty promises”.
“The execution of José Ernesto Medellín Rojas by the state of Texas is a violation of international law,” said Rob Freer, Amnesty International’s researcher on USA. “It undermines the authority of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which had ruled in favour of a stay of execution.”
José Medellín was sentenced to death in 1994 for his part in the murders of two girls, 14-year-old Jennifer Ertman and 16-year-old Elizabeth Pena, in Houston in 1993.
Medellín was never advised by Texas authorities of his right as a detained foreign national to seek consular assistance, as required under article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR).
Because of this treaty violation, Medellín was deprived of the extensive assistance that Mexico provides for the defence of its citizens facing capital charges in the USA.
The Mexican Consulate did not learn about the case until nearly four years after Medellín’s arrest. By this time, his trial and the initial appeal affirming his conviction and death sentence had already concluded.
On 4 August 2008, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously voted against recommending that the state governor commute the death sentence or grant a reprieve.
Governor Rick Perry was left with the option of granting a 30-day stay of execution, and calling on the Board to reconsider, to comply with a recent ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ). He refused to do so.
The ICJ had ruled in 2004 that the USA violated its VCCR obligations in the cases of José Medellín and 50 other Mexican nationals on death row in the USA. The ICJ ordered the USA to provide judicial “review and reconsideration” of the convictions and sentences, to determine if the defendants had been prejudiced by the VCCR violations.
In March this year, the US Supreme Court found that the ICJ’s decision “constitutes an international law obligation on the part of the United States.” However, a 6-3 majority ruled that the ICJ’s decision “is not automatically binding domestic law” and that the authority for implementing it rested with the US Congress.
Efforts within Congress to pass implementing legislation stalled, but Texas pursued the execution date it had set for José Medellín’s execution. The ICJ ordered the US government to “take all measures necessary” to halt his execution.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was among those who appealed for the execution to be stopped: “All decisions and orders of the International Court of Justice must be respected by states”, he is reported as saying on television in Mexico City, where he was attending an AIDS conference.
The Government of Mexico issued a statement after the execution, which it said had been carried out “in clear contempt” of the ICJ order.
The statement continued: “The Government of Mexico sent the US Department of State a diplomatic note of protest for this violation of international law, expressing its concern for the precedent that it may create for the rights of Mexican nationals who may be detained in that country.
“The Ministry of Foreign Relations reiterates that the importance of this case fundamentally stems from the respect to the right to consular access and protection provided by consulates of every State to each of its nationals abroad”.