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II. Substantive International Law - Second Part
6.3.Diplomatic Protection

¤ LaGrand Case
(Germany v. United States of America)
Judgment of 27 June 2001

[p. ] The dispute between the Parties as to whether Article 36, paragraph 1 (a) and (c), of the Vienna Convention have been violated in this case in consequence of the breach of paragraph 1 (b) does relate to the interpretation and application of the Convention. This is also true of the dispute as to whether paragraph 1 (b) creates individual rights and whether Germany has standing to assert those rights on behalf of its nationals. These are consequently disputes within the meaning of Article I of the Optional Protocol. Moreover, the Court cannot accept the contention of the United States that Germany's claim based on the individual rights of the LaGrand brothers is beyond the Court's jurisdiction because diplomatic protection is a concept of customary international law. This fact does not prevent a State party to a treaty, which creates individual rights, from taking up the case of one of its nationals and instituting international judicial proceedings on behalf of that national, on the basis of a general jurisdictional clause in such a treaty. Therefore the Court concludes that it has jurisdiction with respect to the whole of Germany's first submission.

[p. ] 58. The United States argues further that Germany's first submission, as far as it concerns its right to exercise diplomatic protection with respect to its nationals, is inadmissible on the ground that the LaGrands did not exhaust local remedies. The United States maintains that the alleged breach concerned the duty to inform the LaGrands of their right to consular access, and that such a breach could have been remedied at the trial stage, provided it was raised in a timely fashion. The United States contends that when a person fails, for example, to sue in a national court before a statute of limitations has expired, the claim is both procedurally barred in national courts and inadmissible in international tribunals for failure to exhaust local remedies. It adds that the failure of counsel for the LaGrands to raise the breach of the Vienna Convention at the appropriate stage and time of the proceedings does not excuse the non-exhaustion of local remedies. According to the United States, this failure of counsel is imputable to their clients because the law treats defendants and their lawyers as a single entity in terms of their legal positions. Moreover, the State is not accountable for the errors or mistaken strategy by lawyers.

59. Germany responds that international law requires the exhaustion of only those remedies which are legally and practically available. Germany claims that in this case there was no remedy which the LaGrands failed to invoke that would have been available in the specific context of their case. This is so because, prior to 1992, the LaGrands could not resort to the available remedies, since they were unaware of their rights due to failure of the United States authorities to comply with the requirements of the Vienna Convention; thereafter, the "procedural default" rule prevented them from seeking any remedy.

60. The Court notes that it is not disputed that the LaGrands sought to plead the Vienna Convention in United States courts after they learned in 1992 of their rights under the Convention; it is also not disputed that by that date the procedural default rule barred the LaGrands from obtaining any remedy in respect of the violation of those rights. Counsel assigned to the LaGrands failed to raise this point earlier in a timely fashion. However, the United States may not now rely before this Court on this fact in order to preclude the admissibility of Germany's first submission, as it was the United States itself which had failed to carry our its obligation under the Convention to inform the LaGrand brothers.

[pp. ] 75. Germany further contends that "the breach of Article 36 by the United States did not only infringe upon the rights of Germany as a State party to the [Vienna] Convention but also entailed a violation of the individual rights of the LaGrand brothers". Invoking its right of diplomatic protection, Germany also seeks relief against the United States on this ground.

Germany maintains that the right to be informed of the rights under Article 36, paragraph 1 (b), of the Vienna Convention, is an individual right of every national of a State party to the Convention who enters the territory of another State party. It submits that this view is supported by the ordinary meaning of the terms of Article 36, paragraph 1 (b), of the Vienna Convention, since the last sentence of that provision speaks of the "rights" under this subparagraph of "the person concerned", i.e., of the foreign national arrested or detained. Germany adds that the provision in Article 36, paragraph 1 (b), according to which it is for the arrested person to decide whether consular notification is to be provided, has the effect of conferring an individual right upon the foreign national concerned. In its view, the context of Article 36 supports this conclusion since it relates to both the concerns of the sending and receiving States and to those of individuals. According to Germany, the travaux préparatoires of the Vienna Convention lend further support to this interpretation. In addition, Germany submits that the "United Nations Declaration on the human rights of individuals who are not nationals of the country in which they live," adopted by General Assembly resolution 40/144 on 13 December 1985, confirms the view that the right of access to the consulate of the home State, as well as the information on this right, constitute individual rights of foreign nationals and are to be regarded as human rights of aliens.

76. The United States questions what this additional claim of diplomatic protection contributes to the case and argues that there are no parallels between the present case and cases of diplomatic protection involving the espousal by a State of economic claims of its nationals. The United States maintains that the right of a State to provide consular assistance to nationals detained in another country, and the right of a State to espouse the claims of its nationals through diplomatic protection, are legally different concepts.

The United States contends, furthermore, that rights of consular notification and access under the Vienna Convention are rights of States, and not of individuals, even though these rights may benefit individuals by permitting States to offer them consular assistance. It maintains that the treatment due to individuals under the Convention is inextricably linked to and derived from the right of the State, acting through its consular officer, to communicate with its nationals, and does not constitute a fundamental right or a human right. The United States argues that the fact that Article 36 by its terms recognizes the rights of individuals does not determine the nature of those rights or the remedies required under the Vienna Convention for breaches of that Article. It points out that Article 36 begins with the words "[w]ith a view to facilitating the exercise of consular functions relating to nationals of the sending State," and that this wording gives no support to the notion that the rights and obligations enumerated in paragraph 1 of that Article are intended to ensure that nationals of the sending State have any particular rights or treatment in the context of a criminal prosecution. The travaux préparatoires of the Vienna Convention according to the United States, do not reflect a consensus that Article 36 was addressing immutable individual rights, as opposed to individual rights derivative of the rights of States.

77. The Court notes that Article 36, paragraph 1 (b), spells out the obligations the receiving State has towards the detained person and the sending State. It provides that, at the request of the detained person, the receiving State must inform the consular post of the sending State of the individual's detention "without delay". It provides further that any communication by the detained person addressed to the consular post of the sending State must be forwarded to it by authorities of the receiving State "without delay". Significantly, this subparagraph ends with the following language:
"The said authorities shall inform the person concerned without delay of his rights under this subparagraph" (emphasis added). Moreover, under Article 36, paragraph 1 (c), the sending State's right to provide consular assistance to the detained person may not be exercised "if he expressly opposes such action". The clarity of these provisions, viewed in their context, admits of no doubt. It follows, as has been held on a number of occasions, that the Court must apply these as they stand (see Acquisition of Polish Nationality, Advisory Opinion, 1923, P.C.I.J., Series B, No. 7, p. 20; Competence of the General Assembly for the Admission of a State to the United Nations, Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 1950, p. 8; Arbitral Award of 31 July 1989, Judgment, I.C.J. Reports 1991, pp. 69-70, para. 48; Territorial Dispute (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya/Chad), Judgment, I.C.J. Reports 1994, p. 25, para. 51). Based on the text of these provisions, the Court concludes that Article 36, paragraph 1, creates individual rights, which, by virtue of Article I of the Optional Protocol, may be invoked in this Court by the national State of the detained person. These rights were violated in the present case.

78. At the hearings, Germany further contended that the right of the individual to be informed without delay under Article 36, paragraph 1, of the Vienna Convention was not only an individual right, but has today assumed the character of a human right. In consequence, Germany added, "the character of the right under Article 36 as a human right renders the effectiveness of this provision even more imperative". The Court having found that the United States violated the rights accorded by Article 36, paragraph 1, to the LaGrand brothers, it does not appear necessary to it to consider the additional argument developed by Germany in this regard.