The International Court of Justice was due to rule yesterday on a complaint that the US defied the court when it executed a Mexican convicted rapist and murderer last year.
But the US State Department’s chief advocate said on Sunday the ruling would not help other inmates on death row because Washington cannot force individual states to comply.
Mexico has asked the UN’s highest court to affirm its ruling that death sentences for more than 50 Mexican citizens should be reviewed because they were denied consular access when they were arrested.
They were entitled to the consulate’s help according to an international treaty, but they were never informed of that right, Mexico said.
The US has asked the court to dismiss the Mexican complaint, saying it agreed with Mexico but was powerless to act because the prison system is in the hands of the states.
US President George W. Bush issued a directive to the states in 2005 to comply with the order of the UN court in The Hague, also known as the World Court. But Texas refused, and the US Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision last year that Bush lacked the authority to overrule the state legal process in Texas.
Three weeks after the World Court issued an emergency ruling intended to halt pending executions last July, Texas gave a lethal injection to Jose Medellin, convicted of the rape and murder of two teenage girls.
State Department legal adviser John Bellinger III said Bush had done all he could, and it was up to Congress to enact legislation giving precedence to international law over US state law.
“A further ruling reaffirming its decision cannot give more power to the president,” Bellinger said.
Mexico has asked the international tribunal to rule that “the United States breached the court’s order” by executing Medellin.
If the court rules for the US, Bellinger said, it would simply acknowledge that the Bush administration did its best to carry out the court’s order, but it would have no immediate practical effect for other death row prisoners.
A ruling for Mexico would not amount to a rebuke, he said.
“The court has no enforcement powers,” he told a small group of reporters. “It is not the role of the court” to issue a reprimand.
Mexico has asked the court to spell out the meaning of its earlier ruling, arguing that the US must take practical measures to fulfill the court’s demand that the death sentences should undergo judicial review. It said international law must apply not only to the US, but also to its individual states.