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UN rights envoy urges Guatemala Congress against reinstating death penalty

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions [official website] Philip Alston [NYU Law profile] Tuesday urged [press release] Guatemalan lawmakers not to override a presidential veto of a bill that would restore the country's death penalty in a way he said would be contrary to international human rights law. Alston said:

This law can only be intended as an end-run around the requirements of international human rights law. If the Congress is so keen to uphold the rule of law by reinstating the death penalty it should do so in accordance with the international rule of law and not ignore the rulings of both the UN Human Rights Committee and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights directed at Guatemala.
Decree 06-2008 [AI backgrounder] would have given Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom [official profile, in Spanish] the authority 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. The Congress of Guatemala [official website, in Spanish] passed the bill in February by a vote of 140 out of 158. Colom vetoed the bill [JURIST report] earlier this month, but Congress can override the veto with a two-thirds supermajority vote. The UN News Centre has more.

The last execution in 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.

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