international treaties on human rights and the death penalty:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
1st Optional Protocol to the Covenant
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
American Convention on Human Rights
Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture
On 24 October 2017, the Constituional Court of Guatemala has abolished the death penalty for civil cases.
Until now Guatemalan law has allowed for the death penalty in cases of murders of people younger than 12 or older than 60; kidnappings where the victim is severely hurt or dies; assassination of the president or VP; or in certain crimes related to drug trafficking.
"We cannot allow us to be one of the last countries that apply that penalty," said Jose Alejandro Valverth Flores, one of the lawyers who had petitioned the Constitutional Court to declare unconstitutional the pertinent articles of the penal code and a law governing drug crimes.
"We believe it is necessary for the respect of human rights in Guatemala," he added.
The Central American nation has not applied a death sentence for some years in line with a regional human rights agreement to which it is a signatory.
The death penalty remains on the books at least nominally for Guatemala's military judicial system.
On 25 March 2016, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala found that provisions in the Penal Code of 1973 requiring the imposition of the death penalty for certain circumstances of aggravated murder were unconstitutional as described in article 132 of the Penal Code. The death penalty was thereby abolished in assassination cases but maintained in cases of parricide, extrajudicial execution, aggravated rape, kidnapping, torture, forced disappearance and magnicide according to the Court’s spokesman Martin Guzman.
Kidnapping and extra-judicial executions became capital offences in 1996, but Guatemala could not apply the maximum penalty since, in 1978, the country had ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, essentially pledging not to extend the death penalty to other crimes after the ratification. The Constitutional Court declared the law void.
On September 15, 2005, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered Guatemala not to execute any person condemned to death for the crime of kidnapping under the current legislation.
Under the 1986 Constitution the death penalty cannot be imposed on women, people over 60, those guilty of political crimes or related common crimes, or people extradited on condition that the death penalty will not be applied.
Pardons to convicted criminals are no longer handled by the presidency, but by the Supreme Court.
The country, which has emerged from a 36-year civil war, has seen its crime rate escalate, and dozens of suspected criminals have been lynched in rural areas.
On July 27, 2002 Guatemala's then President Alfonso Portillo introduced a moratorium on executions for the duration of his mandate up to 2004. The move was made in response to a request by Pope John Paul II and was announced just prior to his visit to the country. Portillo also proposed abolitionist legislation to the country's National Assembly, but nothing came of this.
On May 3, 2005, a draft law was presented to Congress for the abolition of the death penalty. The Congressional Commission on Legislation and Constitutional Issues was given 45 working days to deliver their judgement on the draft law. Seven months later, and despite international pressure, there still had been no judgement.
In 2003, the Supreme Court, which can also propose legislation in Guatemala, sent a proposal to Congress to abolish capital punishment, but the bill was never included on the legislative agenda. Current President Oscar Berger has said he personally objects to the death penalty.
On February 12, 2008, Guatemalan lawmakers gave the president the ability to pardon or commute death sentences, lifting a five-year hold on executions. The law, approved 140-3, gave President Alvaro Colom the authority to decide whether the more than 30 prisoners sentenced to death in Guatemala are executed or have their sentences commuted to 50 years in prison, the maximum allowed under Guatemalan law. On March 14, President Colom vetoed the bill. "If (the death penalty) were a disincentive, we would reinstate it," Colom said. "But we have studied cases in various states in the United States, and it doesn't dissuade" crime. The Catholic Church and European embassies openly opposed the law, saying it would violate human rights.
On 23 January 2012, the Criminal division of the Supreme Court of Justice reviewed the cases of all prisoners under sentence of death in the country and commuted to 50 years of imprisonment the death sentences of 53 prisoners. One person was left on death row. The President of the Criminal division explained that the decision was taken as the convicted prisoners had not been given the possibility of an adequate defence and therefore due process safeguards had been violated.
In March 2012, the UN Human Rights Committee noted with satisfaction the implementation of a moratorium on the death penalty in Guatemala since 2000, as well as the commutations ordered by the Supreme Court, described above. However, it expressed concern at bills introduced in 2010 and 2011 aimed at resuming executions, and at the growing support for those bills. The Committee urged Guatemala to consider abolishing the death penalty officially, and to accede to the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR.
In 2017 no new death sentences were imposed and death rows were still empty at the end of the year. The “humane” lethal injection
After a 13-year lull in executions, peasants Pedro Castillo and Roberto Giron were shot by firing squad on September 13, 1996. They had been convicted of kidnapping, rape and murder of a 4-year-old girl. This execution was botched and prison guards were forced to finish off the men with pistol shots to the head, a gruesome scene replayed hundreds of times on local television.
The Guatemalan Congress then adopted lethal injection, which was applied for the first time on February 10, 1998 on farmer Manuel Martínez, who received a deadly drug cocktail for slaughtering seven members of a single family.
The last execution in Guatemala took place in 2000. Two people, businessman Luis Amilcar Cetin and farmer Tomas Cerrate, were put to death on June 29, 2000 for the kidnapping and murder of businesswoman Isabel de Botran, whose family owned the country's largest alcoholic beverage producer.
Guatemala is one of the last two Latin America countries to retain the death penalty. The two people were executed on live television. They were the second and third persons to die by lethal injection in Guatemala, and remain to this date the last. Both executions were botched and the prisoners suffered prolonged suffering. The macabre spectacle was replayed on Guatemalan TV throughout the day. The United Nations
On 24 October 2012, during its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the UN Human Rights Council, Guatemala stated that no one was facing the death penalty in the country, since all death sentences for the offences of kidnapping, murder and rape were commuted to life imprisonment through special applications for judicial review submitted by the Public Criminal Defence Institute. The commutations were in line with the judgments in specific death penalty cases that had been the subject of international litigation in the Inter American Court of Human Rights. During the UPR Guatemala’s representatives supported recommendations to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, and to consider the abolition of the death penalty in the country’s domestic legislation.
On December 18, 2008 Guatemala abstained on the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.
In November 2017, Guatemala was reviewed under its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the UN Human Rights Council. In the Report published in March 2018, it was reported that the Public Criminal Defence Institute had brought two cases before the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights that had enabled the Supreme Court of Justice to review and commute the death penalty to imprisonment for previous and subsequent cases. On 24 October 2017, the Constitutional Court had upheld the application for constitutional review brought against the application of the death penalty contained in the Criminal Code and the law against drug trafficking. However, Guatemala did not accept recommendations to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, and to consider the abolition of the death penalty in the country’s domestic legislation.
On December 17, 2018, Guatemala voted again in favour of the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.