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World Court Digest

I. Substantive International Law - First Part
4.5. Individuals

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

[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.

[p. S.O. Shi] 15. The result of the debate was the adoption of the twenty States' amendment with the insertion of the words "if he so requests" at the beginning of the subparagraph. The last sentence of Article 36, paragraph 1 (b), i.e., the provision that the competent authorities of the receiving State "shall inform the person concerned without delay of his rights" (United Nations Conference on Consular Relations, 1963, Vol. 1, pp. 336-343) was inserted belatedly as a compromise between the aforesaid two opposing views. Thus, it is not possible to conclude from the negotiating history that Article 36, paragraph 1 (b), was intended by the negotiators to create individual rights. Moreover, if one keeps in mind that the general tone and thrust of the debate of the entire Conference concentrated on the consular functions and their practicability, the better view would be that no creation of any individual rights independent of rights of States was envisaged by the Conference.

[pp. D.O. Oda] 23. ... I see no convincing argument to support the determination of the Court that "Article 36, paragraph 1, creates individual rights for the detained person in addition to the rights accorded the sending State, and ... consequently the reference to 'rights' in paragraph 2 must be read as applying not only to the rights of the sending State, but also to the rights of the detained individual" (Judgment, para. 89).

24. I shall take the liberty of expressing my puzzlement at the reason for and relevance of the Court's reference in the Judgment to Article 36, paragraph 1 (c), of the Convention in connection with the rights of a detained person. I believe that this provision was included in the Convention simply to provide for the situation in which an arrested foreign national waives consular notification in order to prevent his criminal conduct or even his presence in a foreign country from becoming known in his home country; that provision may not have any further significance.

[p. D.O. Oda] 27. I am not convinced of the correctness of the Court's holding that the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations grants to foreign individuals any rights beyond those which might necessarily be implied by the obligations imposed on States under that Convention. In addition, I cannot but think that the Court holds the view that the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations grants more extensive protection and greater or broader individual rights to foreign nationals (in this case, German nationals in the United States) than would be enjoyed by nationals in their home countries (in this case, Americans in the United States).

If the Vienna Convention on Consular Rights is to be interpreted as granting rights to individuals, those rights are strictly limited to those corresponding to the obligations borne by the States under the Convention and do not include substantive rights of the individual, such as the rights to life, property, etc. I find the Judgment devoid of any convincing explanation of this point.