The Bush administration has pulled out of the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, an international agreement that has been in place for more than 30 years and that the United States initially supported to protect its citizens abroad. In recent years, the provision has been successfully invoked by foreign nations whose citizens were sentenced to death by U.S. states without receiving access to diplomats from their home countries, events which served as the basis for President Bush's decision to withdraw from the agreement.
The Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations requires signatories to let the United Nation's highest tribunal, the International Court of Justice at the Hague, make the final decision when their citizens say they have been illegally denied the right to seek consulate assistance when jailed abroad. The administration's withdrawal from the Optional Protocol comes just weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to consider what effect U.S. courts should give to an International Court of Justice ruling in favor of 51 Mexican foreign nationals. The World Court found that the U.S. government had failed to comply with the requirements of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, and it directed that U.S. courts give the death row inmates "meaningful review" of their convictions and sentences, without applying procedural default rules to prevent consideration of the defendants' claims. It is unclear what affect the administration's decision to abandon the Optional Protocol will have on this case.
Some analysts say President Bush's decision will weaken both protections for U.S. citizens abroad and the idea of reciprocal obligation that the protocol embodied. The United States was the first to invoke the Optional Protocol before the World Court to successfully sue Iran for the taking of 52 U.S. hostages in 1979.