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Keeping Your Word

Texas can't afford to ignore federal treaties

Editorial, Dallas Morning News, April 12, 2004

You're charged with murder in a country whose judiciary is notorious for its inefficiency and corruption. You don't speak the language, you're short of money, and your closest acquaintance is the receptionist at the local youth hostel. You need help.

Almost at wits' end, you think of invoking the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which empowers you to request legal assistance from U.S. diplomats. Your jailers refuse. "Your country doesn't respect our right to ask our diplomats for help," one of them explains as he slides you your daily ration of gruel. "Why should we respect your right?"

Sound implausible? It's not. The United States consistently puts its citizens at such risk by failing to inform foreign criminal suspects of their treaty right to seek legal assistance from their countries' consulates. The United States also puts its international reputation at risk by failing to fulfill the legal and moral obligation that it undertook when the U.S. Senate freely ratified and President Richard Nixon freely signed the convention into law in 1969.

The International Court of Justice exposed the United States' failure last week. Responding to a suit by Mexico, the Netherlands-based court ruled 14 to 1 that the United States should review the cases of 51 Mexicans on death row including 15 in Texas because it had denied them their right of consular assistance. The U.S. judge sided with the majority; the dissenter was Venezuelan.

The United States should obey by giving the 51 Mexicans new hearings to determine whether their cases should be retried. Considering that it wants to build international support for its war against terrorism, the United States hardly can afford to be seen as dismissing another treaty. It should obey, despite Gov. Rick Perry's incorrect assertion that the court has no standing in Texas. As the Constitution states, treaties are "the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby."

Anyone who thinks the United States should ignore the court should consider the possible consequences to Americans overseas. It's hard to argue that your right should be respected when you deny that right to others.


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