The World Court has become increasingly aggressive in
faulting US courts in death penalty cases over the past few years. But, it
has never claimed that the US violated its direct orders –
until now. The
reported on June 28 that the International Court of Justice (ICJ or
the World Court) said the State of Arizona violated a World Court
injunction by executing a German national in defiance of its wishes, and
insisted in its most explicit language that ICJ orders are binding on US
and other national courts. "By failing to take all measures at its
disposal to ensure that Walter LaGrand was not executed pending the
[ICJ's] final decision ... the United States breached the obligation
incumbent upon it," the judges wrote in a majority opinion. Walter
LaGrand was one of two German brothers executed for fatally stabbing a
bank manager during a botched robbery in 1982.
At the request of Germany in March 1999, the Hague-based
World Court by 14-1 had issued a "legally binding" provisional
order – a sort of injunction –
ordering Arizona not to execute him until it could hear Germany's case,
which could have taken two years, according to the June
27 BBC. LaGrand was executed, as scheduled, the following day.
The ICJ hears disputes between nations. Its decisions are considered
binding and can only be appealed through the U.N. Security Council. The
Court's ruling essentially reinforced that.
International law to supercede US law
The case is very important in that the suddenly aggressive
World Court and the soon-to-be in force International Criminal Court both
claim global jurisdiction over national courts in issues dealing with
international treaties and international law. In this case the World Court
claimed the US violated the Vienna Convention was violated in the LaGrand
case. The June
28 BBC reported that the US State Department officials agreed
with the World Court – the Vienna
Convention was violated by the US, but only on a technicality. "The
World Court accepted the US argument that it had established a department
to deal with consular issues affecting foreigners arrested under US law,"
according to the BBC.
American lawyers had argued at The Hague two years ago
that the trial was fair and that the LaGrands had ample time –
nearly 15 years – to run through appeals
in four different courts. Germany claimed the US did not notify Germany in
time for them to receive help. But, no one knew the LaGrands were also
German citizens. The two brothers immigrated to the US when they were two
years old, and had no German accent.
Europe and the UN are putting tremendous pressure on the
US to do away with the death penalty. The European Union (EU) actually
requires the elimination of the death penalty for membership in the
EU. Most see this as nothing more than legal maneuverings to
"litigate the death penalty under the guise of a violation" of
the Vienna Convention, claims State Department lawyer James Thessin.
"We must not allow Germany to lead us into ... restructuring the
United States criminal justice system," he said. Neither
should we allow the UN to do the same thing through international treaties
as they have been. V mc