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March 10, 2005
US Quits The Consular Notification Provisions Of Vienna Convention

In a surprise move, the Bush administration withdrew Monday from the portion of the Vienna Convention that requires consular notification and assistance to foreigners detained by its signatories. The Washington Post reports that Condoleezza Rice sent Kofi Annan the news on March 7th, presumably in response to the World Court's insistence on assuming jurisdiction on American death-penalty cases:

The Bush administration has decided to pull out of an international agreement that opponents of the death penalty have used to fight the sentences of foreigners on death row in the United States, officials said yesterday.

In a two-paragraph letter dated March 7, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice informed U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that the United States "hereby withdraws" from the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The United States proposed the protocol in 1963 and ratified it -- along with the rest of the Vienna Convention -- in 1969.

The protocol requires signatories to let the International Court of Justice (ICJ) make the final decision when their citizens say they have been illegally denied the right to see a home-country diplomat when jailed abroad.

Before we see the outrage boil over from the left on this issue over Bush and his unilateralism, it's important to see the bigger picture. In the first place, the protocol only applies to those who signed onto that specific clause in the Vienna Convention, which constitute less than 30% of the overall signatories to Vienna. Brazil, Spain, and the multilateralists scolds in Canada never did sign onto the consular notification clause, as the Post notes. Second, the first time anyone attempted to apply it was in 1979, when the Iranian government took our embassy and held our staff hostage for 444 days. The World Court sided with us in 1979, and look how effective that was to getting the situation resolved.

That doesn't mean that the move is without risk, especially to Americans traveling abroad. However, the risk was always more real before this than we imagined, perhaps because of our lack of understanding about how little support this clause received internationally all along. Putting that up against the loss of sovereignty for our state courts, which must answer to the World Court where even the federal court cannot impose itself, makes this a qualified good trade. The internationalization of our court system, which got an unfortunate boost this month from our Supreme Court in a death-penalty case, means that the system that Americans run to govern Americans would increasingly be taken from our control and managed by the United Nations, at least in terms of death-penalty cases. I oppose capital punishment, but that doesn't mean I want the UN to dictate our laws and run our court system.

Bush has sent a message to the world that we will brook no further interference in our sovereign government, especially with the independent judiciary. The method in which the World Court implemented this clause required the executive branch to interfere with the judiciary in an inappropriate manner, or for the judiciary to start separate foreign-policy contacts, neither of which passes Constitutional muster. Those separations of power have served us well for over two centuries, and they shouldn't be sacrified on the altar of multilateralism.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 10, 2005 7:12 AM

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