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Guatemala president vetoes death penalty bill

[JURIST] Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom [official profile] vetoed a bill [press release, in Spanish] Friday that would have restored the country's death penalty [AI backgrounder]. Decree 06-2008 [AI backgrounder] would also have given Colom, sworn into office just last month [AP report] the power to decide whether to grant clemency and commute the sentences of the 34 inmates currently on death row to 50 years in prison, or to order their executions to take place. In vetoing the measure Colom said cases in the United States showed that the death penalty did not deter crime, and that strengthening security institutions was the best way to fight crime in Guatemala. The Guatemalan Congress [official website], which passed the bill in February with 140 out of 158 lawmakers supporting it, can override the veto with a two-thirds supermajority vote.

The last execution Guatemala took place in 2000. In 2002, then-President Alfonso Portillo directed the Constitutional Court [official website] to set a capital punishment moratorium in the country, concluding that a 1892 law permitting commutation was unclear as to which part of the government had jurisdiction to grant clemency. The Constitutional Court granted the moratorium, stating that it was Congress' job to amend the law. AP has more.

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