United States Violates an ICJ Ruling (Again)

Edgar Arias Tamayo is set to be executed on January 22, 2014 contrary to an ICJ ruling which required a review of his case

The United States and Mexico have not always had the best relationship with the neighbors in recent times disputing issues such as the Mexican drug cartel and the corrupt governmental officials left to detain them. However, relations are set to become tenser as Texas plans to execute a Mexican citizen on January 22, ignoring a decree set by the ICJ and pleas from current Secretary of State John Kerry.

Edgar Arias Tamayo murdered a Houston police officer in 1994 after the officer detained him for robbery. When the Mexican citizen was arrested he was not informed after his arrest of his right to consular assistance – a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Mexican officials claim that this lack of effective assistance led to the death penalty sentence since Mexican officials were only notified of Tamayo’s trial a week prior and they were not adequately able to express that Tamayo is intellectually disabled and brain-damaged, with an IQ of 67.

The ICJ, ruled in 2004 that the US had breached its obligations under the Vienna Convention by failing to inform Tamayo and about 50 other Mexican nationals immediately after their arrest of their right to consular assistance “Avena Decision”. The ICJ held that the U.S. “shall provide, by means of its own choosing, review and reconsideration of the conviction and sentence, so as to allow full weight to be given to the violation of the rights set forth in the Convention.” The United States never did so in the case of Tamayo and two other Mexicans who were named in in opinion who were executed in 2011.

Then President George W. Bush asserted that state courts were bound by ICJ decisions but the US Supreme Court ruled in Medellín v.  Texas that although the Avena decision is a binding under international law, the president does not have the power the force states to comply with ICJ rulings without a Congressional statute.

Secretary of State John Kerry has acknowledged the binding nature of the ICJ ruling and has stated setting this execution would be “extremely detrimental to the interests of the United States”, to its relations with Mexico and other allies, and “could impact the way American citizens are treated in other countries”.

Was Tamayo awarded a fair trial? Does the United States have the right to decide what ICJ rulings it choses to be bound to? How is this going to affect American relations or America’s relations with the international community as a whole?



The Guardian

Texas Department of Criminal Justice


  1. I feel that Tamayo did not receive a fair trial, which is required under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, guaranteeing every person shall not be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. Although Tamayo did commit a crime, he was still entitled to receive assistance and advice under consular assistance, especially if he was suffering from a mental disability. By not cooperating with the requests of the ICJ, I feel that the United States is almost portraying a view that they are superior to the rest of the international community and their decisions. This could end up damaging the way the United States is viewed by other countries and overall come back and hurt us in the end. The normal saying is “What goes around comes around,” and in this situation we could potentially see requests of the United States be equally denied by the international community.

  2. I also do not believe that Tamayo received a fair trial. The fact that Mexican authorities were not notified until a week before trial, that a proper mental examination was not done, and did Tamayo did not receive assistance under consular assistance, points to an unfair trial. Some facts show that Tamayo had a very low IQ and brain damage, which support the claim of an unfair trial because proper counsel would have probably had Tamayo undergo a mental examination to show these mental issues. These results could have helped the defense prove that Tamayo did not know what he was doing when he killed the police officer. Further, the very late notification to the Mexican government regarding the trial is extremely unfair. If they had ample time, they would have probably sent a government attorney with good experience which would have helped Tamayo present a better trial, and possibly a less severe ruling.
    This certainly does not help the relationship between the United States and Mexico. This give off the vibe that the United States is arrogant and does not care about foreign nationals within the United States, especially ones that committed a crime. As stated by the comment above, this may not fair well for Americans who are in jail or convicted of a crime abroad. Although states do not have to adopt the measures implemented by the ICJ, this is a situation where they definitely should in order to mend the relationship between the United States and Mexico.

  3. Unfortunately, Texas decided to execute Edgar Tamayo ignoring the concerns of both American and International governmental officials. The Supreme Court at the last minute considered whether to stay Tamayo’s execution, delaying it by more than three hours. However, that stay proved fruitless as it did not halt the execution. This case has garner attentions worldwide with Tamayo’s family stating that they have received letters of support from 67 countries. Texas is not only bound by the Vienna Convention via the United States but it is also bound to the United States Constitution. It can be said that Texas violated the Constitution since its insistence to execute Tamayo is contrary to the federal government’s power to govern foreign relations.
    The United States as do other nations rely on agreements such as the Vienna Convention protect and advance the interests of society as a whole. The United States by way of Texas and its decision not to abide by the Vienna Convention may have adverse effects to Americans who have committed crimes in other countries.

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