Federal appeals court rules treaty does not give individual prisoners cause of action

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled Monday that foreign prisoners do not have a cause of action under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations [PDF text] if police do not inform the inmate of their right under the treaty to call the inmate's home country embassy following arrest. Finding that the Vienna Convention is applicable only to sovereign nations, and not individuals, the court wrote [opinion, PDF]:

Article 36 [of the convention] does not create judicially enforceable rights. Article 36 confers legal rights and obligations on States in order to facilitate and promote consular functions. Consular functions include protecting the interests of detained nationals, and for that purpose detainees have the right (if they want) for the consular post to be notified of their situation. In this sense, detained foreign nationals benefit from Article 36’s provisions. But the right to protect nationals belongs to States party to the Convention; no private right is unambiguously conferred on individual detainees.
Attorneys for the inmate plaintiffs indicated that they plan on filing an appeal with the US Supreme Court, saying that other federal jurisdictions have held that the convention does indeed provide such an enforceable right to individuals.

Last year, a Texas state court held [JURIST report] that President Bush "exceeded his constitutional authority" by mandating that US courts follow a March 2005 International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision giving individuals rights under the Vienna Convention and saying that the US was obligated to grant review and reconsideration of their convictions and sentences to the ICJ. The plaintiff in the case, Jose Ernesto Medellin [ASIL case backgrounder], filed a habeas corpus petition arguing that the US had breached his right to contact the Mexican consulate for legal assistance under Article 36. The Texas case will be considered by the US Supreme Court [JURIST report] in its upcoming October 2007 Term; oral arguments are currently scheduled for October 10. The North County Times has more.

 

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