Execution of Mexican Citizen in Texas Reopens Controversy on Capital Punishment, Consular Rights

By Navarro, Carlos | SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, January 29, 2014 | Go to article overview

Execution of Mexican Citizen in Texas Reopens Controversy on Capital Punishment, Consular Rights


Navarro, Carlos, SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico


The long-standing conflict between Mexico and the US regarding the death penalty resurfaced in late-January after the state of Texas decided to move forward with the execution of Mexican national Edgar Tamayo Arias. Tamayo, convicted of killing a Houston police officer in 1994, became the ninth Mexican citizen executed by a US state since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. All but one of the executions have been carried out by the state of Texas, including the high-profile cases of Jose Ernesto Medellin Rojas in 2008 (SourceMex, Jan. 21, 2009) and Humberto Leal Garcia in 2011 (SourceMex, July 13, 2011).

At the heart of all the cases was the failure by local law-enforcement authorities to comply with US international obligations, specifically the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Article 36 of the treaty, which the US ratified in 1969, requires that any foreign national who is arrested be given immediate access to consular staff from his or her home country.

"This does not mean that those Mexicans who have been detained should be declared innocent. Rather, as any person detained outside his or her home country, they must have the opportunity to defend themselves adequately and with support and advice from consular authorities," said Urya Palacios, a columnist for Grupo Expansion. "If this process is not followed, then we face a serious violation of human rights in which the outcome of a trial could be affected."

Others had similar comments. "Tamayo faced a legal process that started with a disadvantage, since he was not made aware of the rights to which he was entitled," columnist Yuriria Sierra wrote in the Mexico City daily newspaper Excelsior. "No one asked that he be declared innocent but only that he receive a trial in compliance with the rule of law."

The controversy about the failure of the US to comply with Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations reached the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, in The Hague in 2004. In a decision known as the Avena Judgment, the ICJ ruled that the US was obligated to review and reconsider the sentences of 51 Mexicans on death row, including Edgar Tamayo. None of the Mexicans facing capital punishment had been notified of their right to receive assistance and protection from Mexican consular officials as established by Article 36 of the convention (SourceMex, April 14, 2004).

US State Department attempted to halt execution

Recognizing the US obligations under the convention, the US State Department launched a last-minute attempt to convince Texas Gov. Rick Perry's administration to delay Tamayo's execution, scheduled for Jan. 22, and reopen the case. In a letter to the Texas governor, Secretary of State John Kerry underscored the importance of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations as a tool to protect US citizens who are visiting or reside in other countries. "Our consular visits help ensure US citizens detained overseas have access to food and appropriate medical care, if needed, as well as access to legal representation," Kerry said in his letter to Perry.

The Perry administration immediately rejected the appeal. "It doesn't matter where you're from--if you commit a despicable crime like this in Texas, you are subject to our state laws, including a fair trial by jury and the ultimate penalty," said Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for the governor.

The Mexican government was also unsuccessful with a couple last-minute attempts to halt Tamayo's execution, which was carried out via lethal injection. A week before the scheduled execution, President Enrique Pena Nieto's administration filed a federal lawsuit in Austin, Texas, requesting that Gov. Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles refrain from proceeding with the execution until an appropriate and transparent procedure was established.

The Mexican government also sought the intervention of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which, since January 18, 2012, has granted precautionary measures ordering a stay of execution in the Tamayo case. …

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