The Need for Consular Protection

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary

When an American national is accused of a crime in a foreign land, the first protection an American should have is to seek help from the U.S. embassy or nearby U.S. consulate (if such institutions exist in that country). For an American to be denied access to their U.S. representatives in a foreign land is not only reprehensible but a violation of the Vienna Convention that guarantees access for all those countries that are signatories of it (of which the United States is one of them). But now there is a problem—the State of Texas has frequently violated this provision of the Vienna Convention. One such case that stands out is that of Mexican national Edgar Tamayo Arias. Sentenced to die by lethal injection for the murder of a Texas police officer, Tamayo has been consistently denied access to the Mexican consulate by the Texas state authorities.

Whatever the Texan authorities may justify, this is a violation not only of this person’s rights to access to his consulate but also any legal information they may have given him or any lawyers the Mexican consulate could have referred him to. I am not saying that the Texan courts are unfair and that they denied his rights by jury, but what the Texan authorities did do was violate his right to consular access. According to the International Court of Justice (based in the Hague in the Netherlands), the United States has not honored its obligations to 51 Mexican nationals sentenced to death. Of all the legal executions carried out in the United States, over one-third of these judicial executions are carried out in Texas. The big problem is that the Texan authorities keep violating the right that all foreign nationals accused of a crime should have access to their respective consulates.

This MUST change. No single state of the union should have the power to deny any foreign suspect of the right to seek help from their respective consulates. When foreign nationals are in another country, and they are accused of a crime, they will be at a serious disadvantage because they will not know the laws, the court system, and how their rights may be enforced (or not). Hence, their first right should be to be guaranteed the right of contacting their respective embassy or consulate. Would Americans approve if any foreign government—whether friendly or not—denies the right of Americans abroad the right to contact a U.S. embassy or consulate to seek help? How can the U.S. government therefore justify denying foreign nationals to seek help from their embassies and consulates? This is something that the U.S. must enforce not only to protect the rights of those foreign nationals in the United States but also help protect American nationals abroad.

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