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Court rules U.S. broke rights laws

Walter LaGrand
Walter LaGrand was executed one day after the court ordered the U.S. to postpone the killing  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- The world court has ruled the U.S. ignored the international legal rights of two German-born brothers who were executed for murder.

Germany had accused the U.S. of breaking the Vienna Convention by not telling the pair that they had the right to assistance from the German consular.

In its ruling, the court found by 14 votes to one that the U.S. had breached its obligations under the convention to the LaGrand brothers and to Germany.

In the landmark ruling, the court also said its provisional orders to national courts were legally binding, criticising the U.S. state of Arizona for ignoring the court's order to delay the execution of one of the brothers.

German journalist Martina Koch told CNN the case was important in terms of international law, as it is the first time the court has said its provisional orders are binding.

CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley: "U.S. has made assurances nothing like this will happen again."
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Koch said the ruling was "symbolically" important as U.S. was not required to pay compensation, although Germany had sought reparations for the men's families..

The court acknowledged that the U.S. had taken steps to ensure there would be no repeat of a similar situation, fulfilling Germany's request for such an assurance.

The U.S. had admitted that the brothers were not told of their right to consular help after their arrest.

The consulate was made aware of the case in 1992 -- 10 years after the murder of the bank manager in a bungled bank robbery in 1982 and eight years after the pair were convicted. The brothers themselves told the consulate after all legal avenues had been exhausted.

Karl LaGrand was executed on 24 February 1999. On 2 March 1999, the day before the scheduled date of execution of Walter LaGrand, Germany brought the case to the International Court of Justice.

Karl LaGrand
Karl LaGrand was executed for murdering a bank manager  

Walter LaGrand was executed on 3 March 1999, despite the court making an interim order asking the U.S. to take all necessary measures to postpone the execution until the case had been resolved.

The court found by 13 votes to two that the U.S. breached its obligations by failing to ensure Walter LaGrand was not executed pending the outcome of Germany's case against the U.S.

The court said it was the first time that it had been asked to determine the legal effects of its orders.

It ruled that its orders were binding, saying that the order to postpone Walter LaGrand's execution "was not a mere exhortation" but "created a legal obligation for the United States."

Germany wanted the court, officially known as the International Court of Justice, to declare that the U.S. violated its international legal obligations under the Vienna Convention.

It also wanted the court to rule that the U.S. should compensate the men's families and provide Germany with an assurance that it will not repeat its "unlawful acts."

The International Court of Justice is the main judicial part of the United Nations. The court's binding decision cannot be appealed, but the court has no independent means to enforce compliance.

Born in Augsburg, Germany, the LaGrands had been taken to the U.S. as children in the 1960s by their German mother and American stepfather.

While the court has been asked to apply international law without moral judgment, the issue of the death penalty is contentious between the U.S. and Europe, where the death penalty has been abolished by all members of the European Union.

• International Court of Justice: LaGrand case
• International Court of Justice: General Information
• Amnesty International

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