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World Court Digest

Summaries of the Decisions

LaGrand Case

(Germany v. United States of America)

Provisional Measures

Order of 3 March 1999

By a request of 2 March 1999 Germany instituted proceedings against the United States of America for violations of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 24 April 1963. Germany stated that, in 1982, the State of Arizona had arrested and sentenced to death two German nationals, Karl and Walter LaGrand, without informing them of their right to consular assistance provided for in Article 36 para. 1 (b) of the Convention. The brothers LaGrand had lived for a long time in the United States and therefore the authorities of Arizona had claimed to be unaware of the German nationality of Karl and Walter LaGrand in 1982 when the brothers were convicted for murder. In 1992, however, Karl and Walter LaGrand had claimed their rights according to the Vienna Convention; their claim failed, however, because, according to the law of the United States, it was belated. The execution of the convicted was scheduled for 24 February 1999 for Karl LaGrand and 3 March 1999 for Walter LaGrand. Diplomatic interventions undertaken by Germany on the highest level in order to prevent the execution of Karl LaGrand failed; he was executed as scheduled. In order to prevent at least the execution of Walter LaGrand, Germany undertook further diplomatic initiatives which all failed so that finally, 24 hours before the time of execution, Germany instituted proceedings before the Court and requested it to indicate, as a matter of extreme urgency, provisional measures of protection. With a view to the extreme urgency Germany requested the Court to indicate the measures proprio motu without holding any hearing according to Article 75 of the Rules of Court. The United Stated objected to this request pointing to the lengthy proceedings in the United States and to the very late date of the request of provisional measures. The Court found, however, that, although the sound administration of justice required a request for provisional measures to be submitted in good time, in the present case Germany only became fully aware of the facts of the case on 23 February 1999 during the proceedings before the Arizona Mercy Committee pursued in order to prevent the execution of Karl LaGrand. There the State Attorney had admitted that the authorities of Arizona had indeed been aware since 1982 that the two detainees were German nationals. These findings led the Court to adopt for the first time an order indicating provisional measures without holding a hearing proprio motu according to Article 75 of the Rules of Court. The Court made it clear that it was free to apply this articles independently of whether or not it had been seized by the parties of a request for the indication of provisional measures. As the Court found that the circumstances of the case required it to indicate, as a matter of greatest urgency, provisional measures it unanimously urged the United States to take all measures at its disposal to prevent the execution of Walter LaGrand and to inform the Court of the measures taken to this effect. Furthermore the Court called upon the United States to transmit the Order to the Governor of the State of Arizona who, according to the reasons of the Court, "is under an obligation to act in conformity with the international undertakings of the United States".

Notwithstanding the Order of the Court, Walter LaGrand was executed as scheduled. As there remained several questions to be resolved despite of the execution of Walter LaGrand, the Court fixed the time-limits for the filing of written pleadings, namely 16 September 1999 for the memorial of Germany and 27 March 2000 for the counter-memorial of the United States. The judgment on the merits was delivered on 27 June 2001.