WASHINGTON, March 10 (AFP) – The United States has withdrawn from the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Rights, which they proposed in 1963 to allow foreigners the right to see their consular authorities when jailed abroad, The Washington Post said Thursday.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice informed UN Secretary General Kofi Annan of her administration’s decision to “hereby withdraw” from the protocol, in a two-paragraph letter dated March 7, US officials told the newspaper.
Proposed in 1963 by Washington and ratified in 1969 along with the rest of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Optional Protocol lets the International Court of Justice (ICJ) intervene when suspects are denied the right to see a home-country diplomat when jailed abroad.
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The United States proposed the protocol to protect American citizens abroad — it was the first country to invoke it during the 1979 US hostage crisis in Tehran, but lately has seen it being increasingly used by foreign governments and US opponents of capital punishment to complain before the ICJ when their citizens are sentenced to death by US courts.
“The International Court of Justice has interpreted the Vienna Consular Convention in ways that we had not anticipated that involved state criminal prosecutions and the death penalty, effectively asking the court to supervise our domestic criminal system,” State Department spokeswoman Darla Jordan was quoted as saying by The Washington Post.
Withdrawal from the protocol, she added, is a way of “protecting against future International Court of Justice judgments that might similarly interpret the consular convention or disrupt our domestic criminal system in ways we did not anticipate when we joined the convention,” Jordan added.
Fewer than 30 percent of the 166 signatories to the Vienna Convention agreed to the protocol, including Canada, Spain and Brazil, State Department officials said.
The protocol has been invoked lately by Mexico for dozens of its citizens jailed in the United States, some of whom have been sentenced to death.
ICJ judges said on March 31 that 51 Mexican nationals held in the United States had not been informed in a timely manner of their rights to seek assistance from the Mexican consulate.
The US Supreme Court is also set to review the case of a Mexican sentenced to die in Texas, and legal analysts told The Washington Post that Washington’s decision to withdraw from the Vienna protocol could make the court’s review moot since the United States is no longer obliged to bow to the ICJ in such matters.
“It’s encouraging that the (US President George W. Bush) wants to comply with the ICJ judgment” in the Mexicans’ case, said Frederic L. Kirgis, a professor of international law at Washington and Lee University. “But it’s discouraging that it’s now saying we’re taking our marbles and going home.”
Rice will visit Mexico City Thursday to meet with President Vicente Fox. During her first visit as US Secretary of State to a Latin American nation, she will discuss issues of bilateral concerns, her office said last month in a statement.
Bush and Fox, in turn, will meet March 23, along with Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin, near the US president’s ranch in Waco, Texas, to discuss problems with the North American Free Trade Agreement.
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