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Mexico asks U.N. court to block U.S. executions

June 20, 2008|From the Associated Press

THE HAGUE — Mexico made an emergency appeal to the United Nations' highest court Thursday to block the execution of its citizens on death row in the United States.

Lawyers for the U.S. cautioned, however, that the court's interference could complicate Washington's efforts to save the lives of Mexican convicts condemned to death by state courts.

Mexico contends that the United States is defying a 2004 order by the International Court of Justice to review the cases of 51 prisoners.

That ruling said the inmates had been denied the right to help from their consulate after their arrests. It said they were entitled to a reconsideration of their trials and sentences to determine whether the violation affected their cases.

Informally known as the World Court, the tribunal is the U.N.'s judicial arm for resolving disputes among nations. Its decisions are binding and final, but it has no enforcement powers.

Mexico's chief advocate, Juan Manuel Gomez-Robledo, told the court that the cases had not been systematically reviewed and that the U.S. was "in breach of its international obligations."

Gomez-Robledo said that without urgent action now, five Mexican nationals "will be executed before the conclusion of these proceedings."

U.S. legal advisor John B. Bellinger III said the federal government had gone to "extraordinary lengths" to carry out the World Court's directive.

After the World Court's ruling, President Bush issued a directive to the state courts to abide by the decision. He also asked Texas specifically to review the case of Jose Medellin, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection Aug. 5.

Those steps were "highly unusual," Bellinger said. "It almost never happens that the federal government enters an appearance in state court proceedings."

Texas refused, and in March the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a 6-3 vote that Bush lacked the authority to compel state courts to comply with the judgment from The Hague.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Atty. Gen. Michael B. Mukasey jointly wrote to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, urging him to review Medellin's case, Bellinger said.

But Rice and Mukasey could do nothing more than "respectfully request" Texas' help, Bellinger said.

More arguments were scheduled for today. It was unclear when the court would issue a ruling.

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