Legislation Introduced to Help Enforce Treaty Protecting Those Arrested Outside Their Own Country

On June 14, Senator Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.) (pictured) introduced the Consular Notification Compliance Act. This bill would establish enforcement mechanisms for U.S. compliance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a key treaty that provides the right to consult with your consulate for citizens detained outside their home country. The U.S. has signed and ratified this treaty, but has not always abided by its terms.  Among other provisions, the act will give jurisdiction to federal courts to review cases of foreign nationals currently on death row in the U.S. who did not receive consular access as required under the treaty. In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the U.S. must review the death sentences and convictions of 50 Mexican nationals who had not been properly notified of their right to consular access. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, held that Congress must pass legislation on how the treaty will be enforced before hearings could be required.  The proposed legislation would allow the U.S. to be in line with the ICJ ruling. Senator Leahy said, "Compliance with our consular notification obligations is not a question of partisan interest. Given the long history of bipartisan support for the VCCR, there should be unanimous support for this legislation to uphold our treaty obligations. A failure to act places Americans at risk."

The Consular Notification Compliance Act could also impact Humberto Leal Garcia, a Mexican national on Texas's death row who is facing execution on July 7. Leal was not informed of his right to assistance from the Mexican consulate following his arrest in 1994. Attorneys for Leal argue that had he been provided assistance, he would not have been convicted, let alone sentenced to death. Instead, Leal was represented by inexperienced and ineffective court-appointed lawyers, one of whom was suspended from the practice of law twice for failing to adequately represent clients.  Former U.S. diplomats, retired military leaders, and human rights groups have urged the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend a stay of execution to allow time for passage of the legislation, which could also help ensure the consular rights of U.S. citizens arrested in foreign countries.

("Leahy Renews Effort to Bring U.S. Into Compliance with International Consular Notification Treaty," The Office of Senator Patrick Leahy, June 14, 2011).  See more on Humberto Leal and see Foreign Nationals.