Humberto Leal is dead. Does this threaten our own rights?

As I posted recently (“The Right to Access Your Consulate”), Humberto Leal was scheduled for execution by the state of Texas yesterday. Despite appeals from a large number of external actors (the UN, Obama, and apparently 4 of our current Supreme Court justices), Texas Governor Rick Perry decided to continue with the execution. As I stated in that previous post, at issue is the right of a foreigner to get assistance from their own country’s consulate (and to be told of this right) when arrested. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations that codified this right has been a relatively straightforward deal for most countries. We seem to be creating most of the problems (and of course, the fact that we allow for the death penalty in some states, while many other countries do not, brings more attention to our cases).

It is now up to Congress to pass legislation to make sure that we no longer run afoul of our international legal obligations. Fortunately, there is a bill in the pipeline. Let’s just hope that Congress acts soon.


“In clustered Central Accra, they pave the streets in praise-pursuit; china-smooth like heaven’s highway.”
– That is Nana Yaw Asiedu on his blog Anti-Rhythm, contrasting the “two Accras”, one that is more rougher and the other, “china-smooth”. Which makes me wonder, in Africa how much might “China” be associated with modernity and higher standards of living?

The Right to Access Your Consulate

Let’s say you are on vacation somewhere outside of the United States–let’s say it is Europe–and you run into some serious legal problems. Perhaps you find yourself being charged with a serious crime, such as murder or being an American spy. An unlikely scenario for most of us, but it might still make you feel a little better to know that you have a right to contact the American consulate and request advice or assistance from your home country. Indeed, this is a real concern for American military and aid personnel serving overseas. And it is a right that even so-called rogue nations respect, as Liz Goodwin notes in a recent article. North Korea granted such access to American journalists it jailed and Iran did the same for the American hikers it thought were spies.

The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, adopted in 1963, both created new international law and codified pre-existing international customs. Much of its 79 articles focus on the definitions of consular activities and the rights and immunities of consular staff. Article 36, however, has been broadly interpreted as providing foreigners who are arrested a right to access their home country consulates.

Al of this seems straightforward, so why is there a problem in the United States? On one level, there is a question of federalism. The typical VCCR case that makes its way into law school case books, cases such as Medellin, Avena, and LaGrand, have often involved American Presidents trying to tell Governors to stay executions of foreign nationals because their consular rights were never invoked. Indeed, this is exactly what is happening right now. President Obama, and his solicitor-general are asking Texas to grant a stay of execution. This is to give Congress time to finally pass legislation that will finally incorporate American obligations under the treaty it signed and ratified into the domestic legal system, as the Supreme Court has said is required. So this goes to the second reason for the problem today. There is disagreement as to whether our original ratification of the treaty was sufficient and self-executing (as the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Circuit has apparently said), or whether Congress was required to enact legislation first (what the Supreme Court has said).

So here we are. Tomorrow, July 7, the State of Texas is scheduled to execute Mexican national Humberto Leal. Whether or not he is guilty (likely he is, in this case) and whether or not an intervention from the consulate would have altered the penalty, we should still be aware that how we treat the nationals of other countries may impact how those other countries treat our own nationals.

One of the key principles underpinning international law is reciprocity. We often make agreements and uphold those agreements in the hope that others will do the same. As so many observers have been pointing out, this is one issue where the United States is not upholding its end of the bargain and if that continues we should be worried that others will no longer do the same for us. Let’s hope that Congress finally passes this legislation so that we can put this issue to rest.

China and Africa: Recent Links

Deborah Brautigam has posted a couple of nice quick reviews of two great sources relevant to understanding the role of China in Africa:

Kennedy Opalo notes that NPR had an interesting graphic on “China’s Global Reach”.

Over at Global Voices, John Kennedy notes that in China, “Sudanese President Bashir’s Visit Raises Eyebrows”.

Over at the, Damien Ma has an interesting piece on Chinese workers in Africa who marry Africans: “Chinese Workers in Africa Who Marry Locals Face Puzzled Reception at Home.”

At African Arguments they have an interesting excerpt of a discussion on the Horn of Africa at the UK House of Lords. It is noted: “There is no room for complacency there at all because it is still a very ugly situation, as the noble Lord indicates, but a number of measures are being taken on land in building the prisons to deal with convicted pirates and on the high seas through unprecedented co-ordination between all the navies of countries such as the United States, Russia, all the NATO countries, Japan and China-a degree of co-ordination never before seen among navies.” Is it possible that Somali piracy could bring the world together? Doubt it, but it is an interesting thought!