Stripping U.S. Foreigners Abroad of Protection

Human Rights Watch weighs in on the Bush Administration's decision to withdraw from the Vienna Convention's protocol of providing consular protection to citizens arrested abroad.

The U.S. government’s decision to withdraw from a protocol governing diplomatic disputes has immediate consequences for the rights of foreigners detained in the United States and could endanger U.S. citizens who are detained abroad, Human Rights Watch said today.

According to a decision by the Bush administration this week, the ICJ, or World Court, will henceforth have no power to hear cases brought by countries on behalf of detained non-citizens in the United States. Americans in the custody of foreign countries who have been denied access to their country’s embassies will also not have access to the ICJ.

“This decision not only violates the rights of foreigners living in the United States, it could also endanger Americans abroad,” said Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. program of Human Rights Watch. “It’s a huge mistake for the United States, for practical reasons as well as legal and moral ones.”

Don't forget, the genesis of Bush's move was the Court's declaration that 52 Mexican prisoners on death row in the U.S. were denied their consular rights. Bush pretended to play along by announcing one day last week they would get new hearings, followed by his withdrawal move a few days later to make sure it would never happen again. Bush's explanation at the time was:

The International Court of Justice has interpreted the Vienna Consular Convention in ways that we had not anticipated that involved state criminal prosecutions and the death penalty, effectively asking the court to supervise our domestic criminal system," State Department spokeswoman Darla Jordan said yesterday.

Withdrawal from the protocol is a way of "protecting against future International Court of Justice judgments that might similarly interpret the consular convention or disrupt our domestic criminal system in ways we did not anticipate when we joined the convention," Jordan added.

Consular notification is an important safeguard :

The right to consular notification and assistance is required by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. This right enables governments' officials to provide assistance, including legal counsel, to help ensure fair proceedings for their citizens who may be at a disadvantage in criminal proceedings in foreign countries.

Mexico contended that these citizens had been tried, convicted and sentenced to death without being properly informed of their Vienna Convention rights in the United States, which is one of 168 countries party to the treaty. Mexico argued that timely consular help could have protected the defendants' due process rights. Although the original claim related to 54 Mexicans, at the time of the court's ruling, only 52 individual cases were remained at issue.

“Today's decision could make the difference between life and death for foreigners prosecuted in the United States,” said Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch. “Giving defendants access to consular officials means that they can get good defense lawyers—the surest way to avoid the death penalty.”

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    Bush is just doing the show thing! in fact Bush cannot Withdraw from it. what bush is doing is a joke, because he needs the show for you to see. but on the other hand it is part of his plan of setup us all for the third world ideals and maybe a third world war.

    So when will Kissinger and Rummy be traveling to Germany?

    et al - "Americans in the custody of foreign countries who have been denied access to their country’s embassies will also not have access to the ICJ." I think this is a little bit disingenuous. I believe a more correct observation would be that they do have a "right," but can be allowed if the arresting country desires. Fred - Yes, Bush can withdraw from it.

    No one could call this a surprise. Worst. President. Ever.

    oops again - that should be "do not have a right"

    I'm a prosecutor in a city on the Texas-Mexico border. I can assure you that the Vienna Convention is wholly ignored here. No judge here will suppress evidence because the VC was not complied with.

    As someon who has several family members currently living abroad, this really concerns me. If I understand the above correctly, what it means is that Americans abroad could be tossed into jail and not have any abiliity to appeal to the local consular office for assistance, thereby increasing the possibility that said Americans could be tortured, imprisoned for life or simply "disappeared". Correct or not? And if so.... scary.