- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

THE HAGUE The United States must temporarily stay the executions of three Mexican citizens on death rows in Texas and Oklahoma, the World Court ruled yesterday.
The ruling which the court cannot enforce and the United States could ignore said the delay was needed while the court investigated whether the men and 48 other Mexicans on death row in the United States were given their right to legal help from the Mexican government.
The 15-judge World Court, officially called the International Court of Justice, is the United Nations' body for resolving disputes between nations. The United States has disregarded rulings in the past.
Reading yesterday's unanimous decision, Presiding Judge Gilbert Guillaume said the court supported Mexico's argument that executing the men would cause "irreparable" damage to their rights if the court later finds in Mexico's favor.
"The United States shall take all measures necessary to ensure that [the men] are not executed pending final judgment in these proceedings," he said.
After Mexico filed the suit last month, the United States said a ruling in Mexico's favor would be an unwarranted intrusion on the U.S. criminal-justice system and would infringe on U.S. sovereignty.
The U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, Clifford Sobel, said the Justice Department was "studying the decision" and would comment on it as soon as possible.
"It's important to note that this is not a ruling on the merits of the case," he said yesterday, adding that it would be "premature" to say whether the United States would abide by the decision.
If the United States does not, the World Court could complain to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions, court spokeswoman Laurence Blairon said.
Elihu Lauterpacht, an attorney for the United States, has labeled the Mexican case a publicity stunt, and said that staying executions in state prisons might be unenforceable for the U.S. federal government.
Mexico's ambassador to the Netherlands, Santiago Onate, called the decision "a confirmation of international law."
The men affected by the ruling are Cesar Fierro and Roberto Ramos, in prison in Texas, and Osvaldo Torres Aguilera, in prison in Oklahoma. All men had exhausted their U.S. appeals, and their execution dates were to be scheduled.
Mexico had asked the court to stay the execution of all 51 Mexicans on death row, but the court concerned itself only with the three most urgent cases.
The court has yet to set a date to hear oral arguments in the case and consider whether the prisoners' rights were indeed violated under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Rights.
The decision followed a high-profile World Court ruling that the United States had violated international law by not informing a German citizen of his right to consular assistance in 1999.
Walter LaGrand was executed in Arizona despite the U.N. court's order to postpone his punishment until it had heard Germany's case. He had been convicted along with his brother Karl LaGrand for murdering a bank manager in 1982 .
The death penalty has long been a source of tension between the United States and countries that oppose capital punishment.

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