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Guatemala Implements Death Penalty Decisions of Inter-American Court on Human Rights

Death Penalty Worldwide has recently confirmed that between 2005 and February 2012, the Supreme Court of Justice of Guatemala commuted all pending death sentences to the maximum imprisonment for the offender’s crimes. As a result, there currently are no death row inmates in Guatemala. The commutations were issued in response to a set of two rulings issued in 2005 by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights: Raxcacó Reyes v. Guatemala and Fermín Ramírez v. Guatemala. The Inter-American Court found that Guatemala’s death penalty violated the country’s international obligations in several respects: because it allowed for the mandatory death penalty, because it created new crimes that were punishable by death, and because there was no clemency process.

Guatemala is considered an abolitionist de facto state by the United Nations, meaning that it has not carried out any executions in the past 10 years.  Guatemala has not executed anyone since 2000. Guatemala has also twice voted in favor of the United Nations General Assembly’s Resolution to institute a universal moratorium on the use of the death penalty, in 2007 and 2010 (in 2008, Guatemala abstained from voting).

The commutations by the Supreme Court were an enormously significant step forward for this Central American country.  However, in Guatemala the death penalty still exists in national legislation and therefore its courts may pronounce death sentences at any time. Currently, Guatemala has a de facto moratorium on the application of the death penalty, primarily because of the legal vacuum regarding the procedure to request a pardon.  Over the past few years, including in 2012, Congress has proposed three bills establishing a clemency procedure with a view to resuming executions. The first two bills were vetoed by the president, and the most recent one is still making its way through the legislative process.   The current President has resolved to carry out executions during his tenure, but until Guatemala adopts a clemency procedure any executions would violate Guatemala’s international obligations.

Today, 15 years after the peace accords were signed, Guatemala is plagued by widespread insecurity, violence, and crime.   In her March 2012 visit to Guatemala, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, recommended that Guatemala abolish the death penalty. Nevertheless, abolition is not likely to happen any time soon because during the current period of high public insecurity, certain sectors persistently advocate for its reinstatement.

You can find Death Penalty Worldwide’s full entry for Guatemala here.