David Sellwood

Engaging Europe in the Fight for US Abolition

on 26 November 2009


In September this year Reprieve launched a three year EC-funded project, Engaging Europe in the Fight for US Abolition. The project seeks to identify and assist European nationals on death row in the US.

Foreign nationality is a significant issue in US death penalty litigation. When foreign nationals are arrested, the US authorities are required to notify the consulate of their native country, if they so request. 

The obligation stems from the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR), which requires such notification ‘without delay’. 

There have been numerous instances where foreign nationals sentenced to death in the US were not informed by the authorities at the time of their arrest, leading to litigation in various courts, from the International Court of Justice to more recently the US Supreme Court.

Aside from the legal obligations under the VCCR, foreign nationality in capital cases can also trigger the assistance of the individual’s own Government. Many EU countries have robust anti-death penalty policies, and are willing to intervene in cases where their own nationals face execution overseas. 

Indeed, the British government has been making representations in such cases at various stages and levels since 2001. The Italians and Germans and no doubt others also do the same.

And nationality claims arise in a variety of unusual and surprising ways. For example, Croatia appears to allow persons to acquire nationality if they deem themselves a member of the Croatian people and accepting of Croatian customs. Like a number of other countries, Croatia can also grant nationality to individuals of general interest to the Croatian State.

Since the project started, Reprieve has already unearthed 48 prisoners on death row in the US that may potentially have European nationality claims. And this is only the beginning…

  •  Want to help? Apply for one of our Europe project fellowships.

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