Dec 272012

Several days ago, the New York Times ran an op-ed written by former legal advisor to the Secretary of State John B. Bellinger III.  In it, Bellinger called for swift action in ratifying international treaties.  If you didn’t catch it, I highly recommend giving the essay a read.

Jul 062011

Following a not so brief hiatus from blogging, forced in part by technical difficulties, I return today with a story that has generated several headlines over the past several weeks.

While the United States has largely focused on trials of Casey Anthony and Roger Clemens, one significant international legal drama has received far less attention.

Tomorrow, Thursday, July 7, 2011, Texas is scheduled to execute Humberto Leal Garcia, Jr.  for the rape and murder of a sixteen year old Texas girl.

Human rights activists, international law experts, the United Nations, the United States Department of State, and others are petitioning for a stay of Garcia’s execution because Texas did not provide Garcia with protections guaranteed under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Garcia is a Mexican citizen, and because both Mexico and the United States are signatories to the Vienna Convention, Garcia is afforded certain rights under the Treaty.  Under Article 36 (reproduced below), Garcia should have been notified (but was not notified) of his right to contact the Mexican Consulate, which could have provided legal aid and assistance in his defense.

Despite calls for a stay of execution, Texas Governor Rick Perry has signaled that he will not halt the execution, and the Obama administration has filed a brief supporting a stay with the US Supreme Court.

It may be unlikely that Garcia’s trial would have had a different outcome had he obtained access to the Mexican Consulate’s services; however, allowing an execution to occur when the defendant’s rights under international treaty law were not properly afforded is a serious infraction of international law.  The US Supreme court has until tomorrow to intervene in the case.

More info concerning the facts of this case and opinion can be found in the following easily digestible articles:

Texas Is Pressed to Spare Mexican Citizen on Death Row, by Adam Liptak, New York Times.

In Texas, a Death Penalty Showdown With International Law, by Nicole Allan, The Atlantic.

Supreme Court to Decide on Mexican’s Execution, by Reid J. Epstein, Politico.


Article 36


1.  With  a  view  to  facilitating  the  exercise  of  consular  functions  relating  to  nationals  of the sending State :

(a)  consular  officers  shall  be  free  to  communicate  with  nationals  of  the sending  State  and  to  have  access  to  them.  Nationals of the  sending  State  shall  have the same  freedom with  respect to  communication  with and  access to  consular  officers  of the  sending State;

(b)  if he  so  requests,  the  competent  authorities  of the  receiving State  shall, without delay, inform the consular post of the sending State if, within its  consular  district,  a  national  of  that  State  is  arrested  or  committed  to  prison  or  to  custody  pending trial  or  is  detained  in  any  other  manner.  Any communication addressed  to  the  consular  post  by  the  person arrested,  in  prison,  custody  or  detention  shall  also  be  forwarded  by the  said  authorities  without  delay.  The said  authorities shall inform the  person  concerned  without  delay  of  his  rights under this sub-paragraph;

(c)  consular  officers  shall  have  the  right  to  visit  a  national  of the  sending State who is in prison, custody or detention, to converse and correspond with  him  and  to  arrange  for  his  legal  representation.  They shall also have the right to visit any national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention in their district in pursuance of a judgment.  Nevertheless, consular officers shall refrain from taking action on behalf of a national who is in prison, custody or detention if he expressly opposes such action.

2.  The right referred to in paragraph 1 of this Article shall be exercised in conformity with the laws and regulations of the receiving State,  subject  to  the proviso,  however,  that  the  said  laws  and  regulations  must  enable  full  effect  to be  given  to  the  purposes  for  which  the  rights  accorded  under  this  Article  are intended.

Dec 162010

One of the wider-reported state ballot initiatives in the November 2010 US elections was the state of Oklahoma’s decision to prohibit international law, including Islamic/Sharia Law.

In the election’s aftermath, there are news reports of more US states considering a ban on religious/foreign law, including Arizona and Florida.

I normally stay out of US political issues, but it seems like much ado about nothing – is there any documented evidence of a US court adopting (or considering to adopt) Sharia law?   Seems far-fetched to me.

Equally as far-fetched is the amount of political controversy generated by the US Senate’s proposed ratification of the new START treaty.   News agencies are reporting that the Senate will consider the treaty before the instillation of the new Congress.

Oct 072010

Steps are being taken to bring the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) to reality as a copy of the text has been posted online.   It can be viewed/downloaded here.

The ACTA’s purpose is to create a system that will hold digital copyright infringers (that includes you, Mr. Illegal Downloader) accountable for their crimes.

The draft is being met with criticism, with pundits claiming the text is watered-down and the signatories would not include chief infringing nations such as China.  To examine this criticism, read Rob Pegoraro’s blog at the Washington Post.

UPDATE: The quick consensus is that the agreement will be worthless without China’s support.  I agree.

Apr 082010

Sorry for the infrequency of posts over the past few days, but travel has kept me from actively blogging.

In case you have not been watching the news, US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) today in Prague.  The treaty would significantly cut the US and Russia’s stockpile of nuclear weapons.

The New York Times covers the treaty and its political implications.

The Christian Science Monitor detailed the significance of the treaty’s terms:

“For the Russians, because of the deterioration of the conventional weapons projection capability, nuclear weapons are more important in their overall military doctrine,” says Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “That gets to the question of how possible or how difficult future agreements are going to be [for] getting to a next round of reductions with the Russians.”

It is important not to “oversell” the significance of the new START, says Mr. Kuchins. The US and Russia, with a new limit of 1,550 nuclear warheads each, will remain by far the world’s predominant nuclear powers.

Of course, to be ratified the treaty must garner 67 votes in the US Senate. ABC News reports that it is unclear whether President Obama can garner Senate approval.

The Washington Post examines a commonly overlooked in US news coverage – the Russian political reaction and the  ratification process.  After all, the treaty must also be approved by the Russian Duma.

The full text of the treaty and protocol can be found here via the White House.