Request for Interpretation of the Judgment of 31 March 2004 in the Case concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America) (Mexico v. United States of America)
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Overview of the case
On 5 June 2008, Mexico filed an Application instituting proceedings against the United States of America, requesting the Court to interpret paragraph 153 (9) of its Judgment of 31 March 2004 in the case concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America), in which it had laid down the remedial obligations incumbent upon the United States, namely “to provide, by means of its own choosing, review and reconsideration of the convictions and sentences” of the Mexican nationals at issue in that case. Mexico claimed that a dispute had arisen between the Parties as to the scope and meaning of paragraph 153 (9) and asked for an interpretation as to whether paragraph 153 (9) expressed an obligation of result and, pursuant to that obligation of result, requested the Court to order that the United States ensure that no Mexican national covered under the Avena Judgment would be executed unless and until the review and reconsideration was completed and it was determined that no prejudice resulted from the violation.
On the same day, Mexico also filed a Request for the indication of provisional measures in order “to preserve the rights of Mexico and its nationals” pending the Court’s Judgment in the proceedings on the interpretation of the Avena Judgment. By an Order of 16 July 2008, the Court indicated the following provisional measures :
“(a) The United States of America shall take all measures necessary to ensure that Messrs. José Ernesto Medellín Rojas, César Roberto Fierro Reyna, Rubén Ramírez Cárdenas, Humberto Leal García, and Roberto Moreno Ramos are not executed pending judgment on the Request for interpretation submitted by the United Mexican States, unless and until these five Mexican nationals receive review and reconsideration consistent with paragraphs 138 to 141 of the Court’s Judgment delivered on 31 March 2004 in the case concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America) ;
(b) The Government of the United States of America shall inform the Court of the measures taken in implementation of this Order.”
Following the submission of written observations by the United States of America and of further written explanations by both Parties, the Court delivered its Judgment on Mexico’s Request for interpretation on 19 January 2009. The Court stated that its interpretative jurisdiction was founded on Article 60 of the Court’s Statute, which provides that “[in] the event of dispute as to the meaning or scope of the judgment, the Court shall construe it upon the request of any party”. A key question which arose in this case was whether a dispute did in fact exist between the Parties as to the meaning or scope of paragraph 153 (9) of the Avena Judgment. The United States argued that no dispute existed between it and Mexico for the purposes of Article 60, because the United States Executive Branch shared Mexico’s understanding that the Avena Judgment established an obligation of result. For its part, Mexico argued that the United States “does not share Mexico’s view of the Avena Judgment — that is, that the operative language establishes an obligation of result reaching all organs, including the federal and state judiciaries”.
In its Judgment on the Request for interpretation, the Court reviewed both of these positions in detail, finding certain merits to each argument. Ultimately, however, the Court concluded that “there would be a further obstacle to granting the request of Mexico even if a dispute in the present case were ultimately found to exist”. In particular, the Court explained that :
“[t]he Avena Judgment nowhere lays down or implies that the courts in the United States are required to give direct effect to paragraph 153 (9). The obligation laid down in that paragraph is indeed an obligation of result which clearly must be performed unconditionally ; non-performance of it constitutes internationally wrongful conduct. However, the Judgment leaves it to the United States to choose the means of implementation, not excluding the introduction within a reasonable time of appropriate legislation, if deemed necessary under domestic constitutional law. Nor moreover does the Avena Judgment prevent direct enforceability of the obligation in question, if such an effect is permitted by domestic law. In short, the question is not decided in the Court’s original Judgment and thus cannot be submitted to it for interpretation under Article 60 of the Statute.”
The Court thus found that Mexico’s Request for interpretation dealt not with the “meaning or scope” of the Avena judgment as Article 60 required, but rather with “the general question of the effects of a judgment of the Court in the domestic legal order of the States parties to the case in which the judgment was delivered”. Thus, the Court considered that, “[b]y virtue of its general nature, the question underlying Mexico’s Request for interpretation is outside the jurisdiction specifically conferred upon the Court by Article 60” and that “[w]hether or not there is a dispute, it does not bear on the interpretation of the Avena Judgment, in particular of paragraph 153 (9).” The Court therefore concluded that it could not accede to Mexico’s Request for interpretation.
This overview is provided for information only and in no way involves the responsibility of the Court.