Amnesty International welcomes the intervention of the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, for a temporary halt to the execution of Angel Francisco Breard (see background on the case below). However, Amnesty International must emphasize that the justification for intervention by the US government should go far beyond merely protecting the consular interests of US citizens abroad.

The United States is now under the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in this controversy and thus has a binding obligation under international law to give effect to the ICJ order halting the execution. Nothing short of full US compliance with the International Court's directive is satisfactory.

It appears that Madeleine Albright's criteria for not executing Mr Breard are not that his execution would be in violation of the International Court of Justice ruling, but rather that it might damage the Vienna Convention rights of US citizens around the world - an appalling double standard.

For the State Department to argue that it has given Paraguay the traditional and only remedy available - it investigated, determined there was a violation of the treaty, apologized and sought to improve future compliance - is not a fitting reply to such an important area dealing with international issues. Another "remedy" is available to the US authorities - not to execute Angel Breard.

Amnesty International is urging the Governor of Virginia to grant a reprieve to Angel Breard, as requested by the Secretary of State. Governor Gilmore has been presented with a rare

opportunity to take action which would be both in the national interest and an affirmation of universal human rights values, as enshrined in international law.

Amnesty International condemns the US Department of Justice's decision to attempt to, in effect, ignore the ICJ's ruling and calls upon it to withdraw its opposition to US Supreme Court review of the appeal filed by the Republic of Paraguay, based on the violation of Angel Breard's consular rights.

Background on the case and on the latest developments
(based on a Reuters report)

The Clinton administration urged the US Supreme Court on Monday not to halt the scheduled execution in Virginia of Ángel Francisco Breard. But at the same time, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote to Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore and asked him to stop the execution temporarily because of the request by the ICJ in The Hague last week that the death sentence not be carried out.

The State Department explained the differing recommendations by saying the administration felt that the US Supreme Court did not have the legal power to stay the execution and that only the Virginia governor could do that.

Government lawyers said the only measure available to the US Administration for complying with the World Court was to use "persuasion," not "legal compulsion through the (US) judicial system." Justice Department lawyers urged the Supreme Court to deny last-minute appeals by Breard and by Paraguay. Virginia prosecutors also urged the high court on Monday to allow the death sentence to be carried out as scheduled.

Paraguay and Breard's lawyers said his 1993 murder conviction and death sentence were unconstitutional because he had been denied access to Paraguayan consular officials during his detention, a breach of the 1963 Vienna Convention.

Breard was convicted for the 1992 attempted rape and stabbing death of Ruth Dickie, 39, his Arlington, Virginia, neighbour. Solicitor General Seth Waxman of the US Justice Department said a State Department review of the case found that the failure to comply with the international treaty "did not affect the outcome of Breard's trial or sentencing proceeding."

Waxman said in a 52-page court filing, "There is no basis for concluding that the assistance of a consular officer would have changed the outcome of the criminal proceedings." He dismissed Paraguay's claims as "speculative" and "unpersuasive," adding, "There is...no basis for requiring the undoing of the lawfully imposed sentence of the courts of Virginia."

Waxman said the State Department had given Paraguay the traditional and only remedy available - it investigated, determined there was a violation of the treaty, apologized and sought to improve future compliance.

But the State Department said Albright was concerned that consular protection for US citizens abroad might be affected by the case. Albright wants to ensure "that nothing that happens in this complicated legal situation undermines the important value that American citizens get...(by being) able to meet with consular officers overseas," spokesman James Rubin said. "We have to bear in mind in many parts of the world the justice systems are rather fragmentary and unfair in many occasions."

In her letter to Governor Gilmore, however, Albright also "emphasized that the United States has vigorously defended Virginia's right to go forward with the sentence imposed on Mr. Breard by Virginia's courts." Governor Gilmore said Monday he was still studying a clemency petition from Breard.

Before his trial, Breard rejected a plea bargain that would have resulted in life imprisonment, choosing instead to take the stand, admit guilt and throw himself on the jury's mercy. He said he had acted under a curse. His attorneys argued that consulting with a Paraguayan official might have persuaded him to accept the advice from his trial lawyers to accept a plea agreement.

Virginia prosecutors admitted that Paraguayan officials were not informed of Breard's arrest but said he should have raised that issue in his appeals to Virginia state courts, which upheld the death sentence.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.