Intervening in a death-penalty case for the first time, the World Court ordered a stay Thursday of Tuesday's scheduled execution of a Paraguayan man in Virginia.
It was unclear what effect - if any - the ruling would have in Virginia, which condemned Angel Francisco Breard for a murder and attempted rape in 1992.The World Court, the United Nations' highest judicial body, has no enforcement powers and relies on countries to comply voluntarily with its decisions. Its final decision could take years, though the 15-judge court promised to speed up its deliberations.
"The court orders the United States to take all measures at its disposal to ensure that Angel Francisco Breard is not executed pending the final decision of the court," the court said in a unanimous decision.
Paraguay had fought for the stay of execution, contending that Breard was not informed of his right to consular assistance after his arrest, as required by the 1963 Vienna Convention.
"It is a vindication of international law. It is a decision we were waiting for," said Manuel Caceres, Paraguay's representative at the court.
Paraguay has claimed that if Breard had been able to seek advice from consular officials, he likely would have pleaded guilty in a pretrial plea bargain and escaped the death penalty.
U.S. lawyers, however, claim Breard was never offered a plea bargain. The United States also says it has no dispute with Paraguay over the Vienna Convention and that the World Court therefore has no jurisdiction in the case.
Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore has said he will follow U.S. court decisions. Breard has a clemency appeal pending before the Supreme Court.
In January, a U.S. federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit Paraguay had filed against Virginia. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it was disturbed that Virginia failed to follow the Vienna Convention but ruled that the Constitution prohibits foreign governments from suing states.
Breard, 30, was convicted of stabbing Ruth Dickie, 39, five times on Feb. 17, 1992.