U.S. citizens travel, study and work abroad in vast numbers. Every year, thousands of them are detained and sometimes jailed, not always under circumstances comporting with U.S. views of due process. The bulwark of their protection is the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which binds the United States and 172 other countries to notify nationals of treaty partners who are arrested or detained of their right to contact the consulate of their country.

The Vienna Convention has been the supreme law of the land since 1969, when it was unanimously approved by the Senate and brought into force by President Richard Nixon. The Senate gave advice and consent on the basis that the treaty would be self-executing — that is, that no implementing legislation would be needed.

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