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 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 12:57 GMT
Mexico seeks to block US executions
A death chamber in Texas
Mexico has repeatedly argued with the US over executions
Mexico has asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague to stop the United States from executing dozens of Mexicans held on death row.

Violations are particularly perturbing given that they have as a consequence the sentencing of an individual to death

Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo, Mexican counsel
The Mexican ambassador in The Hague said the dispute was not about the US' right to execute criminals, but about alleged violation of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Mexico wants its nationals to be retried, arguing that the US failed to inform the prisoners of their right to access to consular officials.

Along with other American allies, Mexico has repeatedly voiced its concerns over the death penalty in the US.

The latest move comes amid renewed debate about executions, after the outgoing governor of Illinois reduced the sentences of all the state's death row inmates to life imprisonment.

The ICJ's rulings - which sometimes run over a period of years - are binding, but the court has no power to enforce them.

Presidential protest

At the start of the hearing, Mexican counsel Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo told the court that the rights of Mexican nationals under the Vienna Convention were systematically breached by US authorities.

Javier Suarez Medina was put to death for the murder of a US police officer
Mexico protested over the execution of Javier Suarez Medina

"These repeated violations are particularly perturbing given that they have as a consequence the sentencing of an individual to death," he said.

In a written application, Mexico argued that communication with consular officials could "make the difference between life and death" for Mexicans facing capital punishment.

Mexican officials are seeking an injunction to stop the US from executing any Mexicans while the court considers the arguments on both sides.

Mexico had originally requested a stay of execution for 54 of its nationals, but said on Tuesday that three of them had had their sentences commuted by the governor of Illinois earlier this month.

The death penalty has been a source of tension between Mexico and the US.

Last year, Mexican President Vicente Fox cancelled his visit to the US over Washington's refusal to stop the execution of a Mexican prisoner.

German precedent

The latest case echoes a previous ruling by the ICJ in June 2001 involving the La Grand brothers, two German nationals who were executed in the US in 1999.

The court found that the US had denied the brothers their right to contact the German consulate.

It ordered the US not to go ahead with the execution of Walter La Grand, whose brother Karl had already been put to death.

But Walter was executed nevertheless.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Geraldine Coughlan
"Mexico has asked the court to act quickly"
See also:

16 Jan 03 | Americas
11 Jan 03 | Americas
14 Aug 02 | Americas
24 Jun 02 | Americas
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