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Mexico’s President Vicente Fox stunned the Bush administration and Gov. Rick Perry when he canceled his trip to Texas and George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford after Perry spurned Fox’s written and verbal requests to stay the execution of Mexican national Javier Su�rez Medina. Perry could have granted a 30-day stay, but he rejected Fox, and Su�rez was executed as planned Aug. 14. Some 16 other nations also joined Fox, with court briefs or letters. The 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations guarantees foreigners arrested abroad a right to seek help from consular officials representing their countries. Mexico and the United States are signatories to that international treaty. When they arrested him for shooting to death an undercover police officer, Dallas police allegedly had not informed Su�rez that he had a right to seek help from a Mexican consulate. This is not the first time a Texas governor has turned down such a request from a Mexican president. Texas’ Gov. Bush did so, even in light of a note from then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and others have done the same. Earlier this year, pressure from Fox helped prevent the execution of Gerardo Valdez in Oklahoma. An appellate court there vacated the execution order and scheduled a new sentencing hearing. It was a rare occurrence, however. Currently, 120 foreigners are on death row in the United States, 54 of whom are Mexican nationals (and 17 of them in Texas). At least six foreigners — including a Canadian and two Germans — have been executed in the past few years without timely access to consular services. Last year, the International Court of Justice ruled that the United States violated international obligations in 1999 by executing a citizen of Germany who was allegedly denied consular rights. A LESSON LEARNED? Fox’s point was threefold. The United States must stand behind its international human rights commitments, and, if Su�rez had been allowed to contact the Mexican consulate, he might have obtained an attorney more quickly and could have been spared the death penalty. Finally, the United States has to respect other countries in the human rights arena. Fox is right on all counts. Virtually all the capital punishment studies on this point agree that the quality of counsel and the timing of appointment of counsel greatly affect the probability of whether the accused person will receive the death penalty. Even a guilty person has a greater probability of receiving life in prison, rather than being executed. This becomes an important factor in due process, especially for countries such as Mexico that oppose the death penalty — and most countries do, either in principle or practice. Fox is also correct that the United States must be accountable for abiding by human rights treaties to which it is a signatory. We can imagine how the United States would react if another country put one of our citizens on trial without telling the American consulate. Indeed, our government often has raised a ruckus when this has occurred. There is a practical reason for the United States to honor its word. Foreign governments arrest Americans all the time for murder, theft, drug offenses and other crimes, often in countries with faulty justice systems. To protect their rights, they need assistance from the American consulate. Executing foreign nationals denied access to consular services gives other countries a justification to deny consular access to Americans. There is another dimension, however: the issue of hypocrisy. The United States touts itself as the international protector and advocate of human rights, but other countries, even our closest allies, are asking hard questions about our commitment if we don’t apply those standards to ourselves. The United States recently pulled out from the International Criminal Court, carefully crafted by the world’s countries to fight human rights abuses. Rather than trying to work out concerns about Americans overseas being selectively prosecuted, Bush simply “unsigned” the treaty former President Bill Clinton signed. Not even the ensuing uproar and displeasure of out allies caused Bush to re-examine his conscience. After Sept. 11, Bush spoke eloquently of forging common alliances to protect human rights and prevent attacks on countries that respect human rights. However, reality has displaced eloquence, and we have returned to years past when a cowboy insolence guided international policy. Bush has yet to learn that international cooperation is a two-way street and that this country must respect treaties and protect rights as much as we expect others to do the same. Maybe Fox has taught him a lesson. Let’s hope. James C. Harrington is the director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, an Austin-based nonprofit foundation that promotes civil rights and economic and racial justice throughout Texas.

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