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Wednesday, 5 February, 2003, 16:53 GMT
Court urges US to delay executions
A death chamber in Texas
Mexico claims its citizens' rights were violated
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled that three of the Mexican nationals on death row in the United States should be granted a temporary stay of execution.

The involvement of consular officers can make the difference between life and death for a Mexican national facing capital charges

Mexico's application to World Court

In a unanimous decision, the court said the delay was needed while it investigates whether the prisoners were given their right to legal help from the Mexican government.

Mexico - which does not have the death penalty - says all 51 of its citizens on death row in the US should be retried because they were denied assistance from Mexican consular officials.

The US Government has not said whether it will abide by the court's ruling.

Some of the Mexicans on death row in nine states across the US claim to have confessed under pressure.

'Life and death'

Last month Mexico took its case to the ICJ in The Hague - also known as the world court - because it was particularly concerned about six citizens whose appeals have been exhausted and may soon face execution.

Mexican President Vicente Fox
Fox: Cancelled US trip last year in protest at execution of a Mexican citizen
"It is Mexico's experience that the involvement of consular officers can make the difference between life and death for a Mexican national facing capital charges," Mexico said in its application to the court.

The country has repeatedly voiced its concerns over the death penalty in the US, and the issue has been an increasingly large source of tension between the allies.

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

'Publicity stunt'

However US lawyers dismissed the case as a publicity stunt, saying during hearings on the case last month that a ruling in favour of Mexico was tantamount to "a sweeping prohibition of capital punishment of Mexican nationals in the US".

The US also argues that the court's order to stay the executions infringes on its sovereignty over its criminal justice system.

The US is facing mounting international criticism over its use of the death penalty.

But although the world court is the highest court for resolving disputes between nations, it has no power to enforce its decisions.

The US ambassador to the Netherlands, Clifford Sobel, said his government would comment on the decision soon - but he added: "this is not a ruling on the merits of the case".

He said it would be "premature" to say whether the US would abide by the ruling.

See also:

05 Feb 03 | UK
16 Jan 03 | Americas
11 Jan 03 | Americas
14 Aug 02 | Americas
24 Jun 02 | Americas
04 Sep 01 | Americas
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