Guatemala: President's move to veto death penalty welcomed

On the eve of World Day Against the Death Penalty, Amnesty International has welcomed President Álvaro Colom’s public commitment to veto proposed legislation that would lead to the reapplication of the death penalty.

The Guatemalan Congress had voted on 5 October 2010 to approve legislation that would have allowed the use of the death penalty. However, President Colom has since said he would veto the move because he does not think the president should decide on the life of others.

Sebastian Elgueta, Central America Researcher at Amnesty International, said:

“This is very good news. The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights - the premeditated, cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state.

“President Colom must now make his commitment a reality as he did back in 2008 following a similar move by Congress. Were Guatemala to reapply the death penalty, it would stand against a global and regional trend towards the abolition of the death penalty.”

More than two-thirds of countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.   

Sebastian Elgueta said:

“Even the USA, which is the country in the region that continues to carry out scores of executions, is showing signs of turning against this inhuman and degrading treatment.”

Amnesty International urges the Guatemalan Congress to desist from putting forward such bills again and instead propose legislation for the abolition of the death penalty, and legislation which address the real issues that lie behind crime. Far from making society safer, the death penalty has been shown to have a brutalising effect on society. State sanctioned killing only serves to endorse the use of force and to continue the cycle of violence

Sebastian Elgueta added:
“Congress should be discussing and passing bills to effectively equip the police force and judicial systems to eradicate impunity as well as bills which address inequality and discrimination.”

Background information

With a two thirds majority Congress passed legislation on 5 October establishing presidential pardons for those on death row and has ten days to send Decree 37-2010 to the President for approval. The President will then have 30 days to approve or veto the decree.  Should the President veto the decree, Congress can override the veto with 105 votes (two thirds majority) if the vote occurs within 30 days of the Presidential veto.

The Guatemalan constitution, adopted in 1985, permits the death penalty under article 18 for murder or kidnapping. The creation of presidential pardons would allow the country to use the death penalty for the first time since 2000 when the last execution was carried out. Ten people currently on death row could be executed if the death penalty is reactivated. Since 2000, successive governments have not applied the death penalty, by not implementing measures to enable them to issue presidential pardons for those sentenced to death.

Capital punishment is irrevocable; and coupled with judicial systems prone to human error and prejudice; the risk of executing an innocent person is ever present.  In 2007, the UN reaffirmed and strengthened its position against this cruel and inhumane punishment, when the General Assembly passed a resolution calling upon member states to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing it all together.

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