UPCOMING EXECUTION: Florida Case Raises Numerous Legal Concerns

Florida has set an execution date of Septmeber 6 for Manuel Valle (pictured), a foreign national from Cuba who was deprived of his rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.  The European Union's ambassador to the U.S. has asked Florida to halt the execution, and Florida's Catholic Bishops have also requested clemency for Valle, saying, "Killing someone because they killed diminishes respect for life and promotes a culture of violence and vengeance."  The state plans to introduce the anesthetic pentobarbital for this execution, despite the fact that the manufacturer of the drug, Lundbeck, Inc., has asked Florida to refrain from such use, saying it "contradicts everything we are in business to do." Valle has been on death row for about 33 years, raising other questions about cruel and unusual punishment in his case.  In another case, a federal judge has found Florida's statute to be unconstitutional.  If that ruling is upheld on appeal, it could affect Valle's case as well, but only if he is still alive. UPDATE: Valle's execution has been stayed at least until Sept. 8 by a federal court to consider whether he was denied a clemency hearing. UPDATE: Stay of execution lifted; may proceed on Sept. 8.

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FOREIGN NATIONALS: Obama Administration and U.N. High Commissioner Seek Relief for Texas Death Row Inmate

On July 1, the Administration of President Barack Obama joined former government officials and national organizations intervening in the case of Texas death row inmate Humberto Leal Garcia. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to delay Leal's execution scheduled for July 7. The Solicitor General wrote that Leal's execution "would place the United States in irreparable breach of its international-law obligation to afford (Leal) review and reconsideration of his claim that his conviction and sentence were prejudiced by Texas authorities' failure to provide consular notification and assistance under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations."  In a 30-page brief, the Administration also stated that complying with obligations to "notify consuls in such cases would serve U.S. interests as well as those of the condemned man," including "protecting Americans abroad, fostering cooperation with foreign nations, and demonstrating respect for the international rule of law."  The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has also written a letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry, asking the governor to commute Leal's sentence to life in prison.

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NEW VOICES: Journalist Who Was Arrested Abroad Emphasizes Importance of Consular Access

Journalist Euna Lee (pictured), who was imprisoned in North Korea along with her colleague, Laura Ling, recently wrote an op-ed  in the Washington Post on the importance of consular access for individuals arrested outside their home countries. Lee was reporting for Current TV when she and Ling were arrested, interrogated, put on trial, and sentenced to 12 years hard labor. Only when the Swedish ambassador, who represented U.S. interests in North Korea, reminded Korean officials of their responsibilty to uphold the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations was Lee able to communicate with the U.S. government. As an execution of a foreign national approaches in Texas, Congress is currently considering legislation that would ensure judicial review of death penalty cases in which foreign nationals in the U.S. were denied access to their consulates. According to Lee, "This legislation is not only a matter of honoring our obligations to such inmates.  There are still many American journalists, aid workers, missionaries, members of the military and tourists detained in foreign countries. For all of them, and for their fearful families at home, there is nothing more important than upholding the reciprocal right to consular protection." 

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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."

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NEW VOICES: Military and Diplomatic Leaders Urge Reprieve for Foreign National Facing Texas Execution

On June 7, a clemency petition was filed with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles requesting a halt to the July-7 execution of Humberto Leal, a Mexican citizen who was not advised of his consular rights upon arrest for a murder in San Antonio in 1994.  The petition was accompanied by letters from former U.S. diplomats, retired military leaders, former prosecutors and judges, and assocations of Americans living abroad calling for a stay of execution until Congress can pass legislation to guarantee proper notification in such cases.  The U.S. is a party to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations that requires officials to inform foreign nationals of their right to contact their consulate when arrested.  The treaty is designed to protect both U.S. citizens abroad and citizens of other countries in the U.S.  Among the signers of the letter from retired military officers were Rear Admiral Don Guter, USN, Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, USN, and Brigadier General James P. Cullen, USA.  They wrote:  "International consular notification and access obligations are essential to ensuring humane, non-discriminatory treatment for both non-citizens in U.S. custody and U.S. citizens in the custody of foreign governments. As retired military leaders, we understand that the preservation of consular access protections is especially important for U.S. military personnel, who when serving our country overseas are at greater risk of being arrested by a foreign government."

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NEW VOICES: Former Bush Official Urges Basic Review of Death Sentences Given Foreign Nationals to Protect Americans Abroad

A former State Department official in the Bush administration is urging Congress to help the U.S. comply with a ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) regarding the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations as a way of protecting U.S. citizens traveling abroad.  John Bellinger, who argued before the ICJ, said in an op-ed in the Washington Post that "a key provision [of the Vienna Convention] requires parties to the treaty to promptly inform, upon arrest, nationals of other parties to the treaty that they have a right to meet with a consular official." But the U.S. failed to give such notice to foreign nationals in the U.S. who faced the death penalty.  In 2004, the ICJ at the Hague held that the U.S. was required to review the convictions and sentences of 51 Mexicans on death row in the U.S. whose rights under the treaty were not respected.  A year later, then-President George W. Bush ordered Texas courts to carry out this review for those on its death row.  Texas challenged Bush’s order, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Texas, saying the president does not have the power to order state courts to review criminal convictions. The op-ed noted that the Vienna Convention is a two-way street and that U.S. compliance with its provisions is essential to ensure that Americans detained abroad receive the same treatment. Bellinger wrote, “U.S. compliance with the Vienna Convention is vital. [U.S.] lawmakers cannot expect other countries to comply with their treaty obligations to us unless the United States observes its treaty obligations to them.”  Read full editorial below.

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