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News alert 070611 SRE

July 6, 2011

Mexico Defends Consular Notification Rights per International Law

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

In connection with the case of Mexican citizen Humberto Leal, whose execution in Texas is scheduled for Thursday, July 7, the Foreign Ministry reports that since January 2003 it has taken a wide range of actions to enforce compliance with the right to consular notification established by the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, of which both Mexico and the United States are parties.

1. On January 9, 2003, Mexico filed a lawsuit against the United States with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) regarding the situation of a group of Mexican citizens facing the death penalty who had not been informed of their right to consular notification at the time of their arrest (Avena and Other Mexican Nationals"). The fundamental difference was not about the death penalty, but the right of every individual, based on the Vienna Convention, to have the support of their home state when facing criminal prosecution abroad. 

2. On March 31, 2004, the ICJ ruled in favor of Mexico, recognizing that U.S. officials never told 51 Mexican citizens of their right to tell the Mexican consulate about their arrest. It ordered the U.S. to review and reconsider the cases in the courts.

3. On February 28, 2005, via a memorandum to the U.S. Attorney General, President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. state courts to adhere to the decision. However, on March 25, 2008, in the "Medellin v. Texas case," the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that neither President Bush’s memo nor the decision of the ICJ were binding in the absence of federal legislation to that effect.

4. Based on the Supreme Court ruling, on June 5, 2008 Mexico asked the ICJ for an interpretation of the meaning and scope of the Avena case decision, and for provisional measures, which were granted, to prevent the Mexicans included in the case from being executed while the ICJ was preparing the interpretation. On July 24, 2008, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a report recommending the review and reconsideration of the death sentences and establishing protective measures. 

5. Despite these efforts, one of the Mexican citizens included in the Avena case, Jose Ernesto Medellin Rojas, was executed in Texas on August 5, 2008. The government of Mexico sent a note in protest to the State Department for this violation of international law. 

6. On January 19, 2009, the ICJ ruled that the U.S. violated the provisional measures by failing to take all necessary actions to prevent the execution of Mr. Medellín and it reiterated the continuing obligation to comply with the Avena decision.

7. On August 7, 2009, the Commission reiterated the recommendation to review and reconsider the sentences against Humberto Leal and Ruben Ramirez. It maintained its precautionary measures. 

8. Based on the ICJ decision and the recommendation of the IACHR, as well as the decision in the Medellin v. Texas case, the Mexican government intensified its dialogue with those involved in this process, in the executive and the legislative branches of the U.S. government, as well as with civil society.

9. On June 10, Mr. Leal’s defense asked the IACHR to reaffirm the July 2008 precautionary measures that were ratified in August 2009. On July 1, the IACHR sent a letter to the United States urging a stay of execution pending the establishment of a mechanism to review the case. 

10. On June 14, 2011, Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judicial Affairs, introduced a bill seeking compliance with the Avena ruling, giving jurisdiction to federal courts to review the cases of individuals sentenced to death who were not informed of their right to consular notification. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder expressed their support for this proposal in a letter from both of them to the U.S. Senate. 

11. On June 16, 2011, Mr. Leal’s defense sought a writ of (habeas corpus) in the U.S. District Court in San Antonio. The petition was dismissed. On June 27, he appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The petition was also denied. 

12. On June 28, the defense filed a petition for review (certiorari) and postponement of the execution with the U.S. Supreme Court of the United States, pending its decision. The Mexican government presented a "Friend of the Court" brief to support these legal measures.

13. At the same time, the Ambassador of Mexico to the United States sent a letter to Secretary Clinton, reiterating the U.S.’ obligation to comply with the Avena decision and asking for its intervention with the Texas authorities. He also lobbied the General Counsel of the Department of State. 

14. On July 1, the U.S. government submitted a "Friend of the Court" brief in support of the request for a stay of execution based on the judicial review initiated by the defense. The Mexican government welcomes this new attempt by the Obama administration to implement the ruling of the ICJ. 

15. Mr. Leal’s defense requested the intervention of Texas Governor Rick Perry to temporarily suspend the execution and ask for a clemency hearing of the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole. The Foreign Secretary and Ambassador of Mexico in the United States sent letters in support of this request. The National Human Rights Commission, the governments of Brazil, Honduras, El Salvador and Switzerland, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and non-governmental organizations sent letters in this regard, as well. 

16. The Mexican government will continue to take all reasonable steps within its power to ensure compliance with the Avena judgment in defense of the right to consular notification, an essential tool for defending the rights and interests of Mexicans abroad. 

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Press Release: Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE), Jul. 6, 2011, Mexico, D.F.; translation SRE

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