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World Court: U.S. Must Stay 3 Executions
Wed Feb 5, 5:48 PM ET
By TOBY STERLING, Associated Press Writer
THE HAGUE, Netherlands - The United States must temporarily stay the
execution of three Mexican citizens on death row in Texas and Oklahoma,
the World Court ruled Wednesday.
In a unanimous decision, the 15-judge panel said that the delay was
needed while the U.N. court investigates in full whether the men and
48 other Mexicans on death row in U.S. prisons were given their right
to legal help from the Mexican government.
The World Court, officially known as the International Court of
Justice, is the U.N.'s court for resolving disputes between nations. It
has no power to enforce its decisions, and the United States has
disregarded them in the past.
It is the third World Court case in five years against the United
States dealing with the death penalty. In a nearly identical
high-profile case in 2001 it found that the United States had violated
international law by not informing a German citizen of his right to
Walter LaGrand was executed in Arizona despite an order to postpone his
punishment until it had heard Germany's case.
Reading the ruling Wednesday, presiding Judge Gilbert Guillaume said
the court supported Mexico's argument that executing the men would
cause "irreparable" damage to their rights if the court later finds in
"The United States shall take all measures necessary to ensure that
(the men) are not executed pending final judgment in these
proceedings," he said.
U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands Clifford Sobel said the Justice
Department (news - web sites) was "studying the decision" and would
comment as soon as possible.
"It's important to note that this is not a ruling on the merits of the
case," he said.
It would be "premature" to say whether the United States will abide by
the decision, Sobel said.
Sandra Babcock, a lawyer for Mexico, said she expects America to comply
because "these types of orders are binding on the United States." By
ignoring the decision, she said, the United States would send the
impression that it "didn't care about the rule of law."
"Americans traveling abroad are more vulnerable than ever at this point
in time, and if the United States disregards the order of the world's
highest court on an issue that directly affects Americans abroad
(consular assistance), I think that sets a very dangerous precedent."
Court spokeswoman Laurence Blairon said the court could in theory
complain to the U.N. security council which can impose sanctions if
the ruling is not obeyed.
Mexico's Ambassador to the Netherlands Santiago Onate said the decision
was "a confirmation of international law."
The men whose executions have temporarily been barred are Cesar Fierro,
Roberto Ramos and Osvaldo Torres Aguilera, all of whom had exhausted
their U.S. appeals and whose execution date was soon to have been
Fierro and Ramos are imprisoned in Texas, and Aguilera is in Oklahoma.
Of the three convicted men, Fierro's case is the best-known. He was 22
years old when he was convicted of the Feb. 27, 1979 shooting death of
an El Paso taxi driver, Nicolas Castanon. Despite a ruling in a Texas
appeals court that his confession was probably coerced, he was not
granted a retrial. Fierro has been on death row in Texas longer than
any other inmate.
Ramos, 48, was sentenced to death in February 1992 for killing his wife
Leticia and his two youngest children, Abigail, 8, and Jonathan, 3,
with a hammer.
Aguilera was convicted for the July 12, 1993, slayings of Francisco
Morales and Maria Yanez during a burglary in Oklahoma City.
Mexico, which opposes the death penalty, filed its suit against the
United States last month. While it asked the court to stay the
execution of all 51 Mexicans on death row, the court said a stay was
needed for only the three most urgent cases for now.
The court was expected to set a date Thursday for hearings to consider
whether the prisoners' rights were indeed violated under the 1963
Vienna Convention on Consular Rights.
When the suit was filed last month, the United States argued that
granting Mexico's request for a stay of all executions would be an
unwarranted intrusion on the U.S. criminal justice system and U.S.
Elihu Lauterpacht, a lawyer for the United States, labeled the Mexican
case a publicity stunt, and said that an order to stay executions in
state prisons might be unenforceable for the U.S. federal government.
The Mexicans on death row in the United States are imprisoned in
California, Texas, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma
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