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Guatemala president vetoes legislation reinstating capital punishment

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom [official profile, in Spanish] vetoed legislation [press release, in Spanish] Thursday that would have reinstated the death penalty. Colom has stated that his government does not believe capital punishment improves a nation's security and has called on the Guatemalan Congress [official website, in Spanish] to abolish [DCA report, in Spanish] capital punishment permanently. Legislative Decree 37-2010 [AI backgrounder] would have reinstated the death penalty while reserving to the executive the power to commute death sentences to a prison term of up to 50 years. Some legislators, unhappy with the veto, have said they will try to establish a super-majority to override the decision. In 2002, then-president Alfonso Portillo directed the Constitutional Court [official website, in Spanish] to suspend the death penalty in Guatemala. The Constitutional Court granted the moratorium, stating that it was Congress' job to amend the law. A number of Guatemala prisoners on death row have been in limbo since the imposition of the moratorium.

In 2008, Colom vetoed a similar bill [JURIST report]] that would have restored the country's death penalty. Decree 06-2008 [AI backgrounder] would also have given Colom 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 US showed that the death penalty did not deter crime and that strengthening security institutions was the best way to fight crime in Guatemala. Last month, protesters across the globe marked the 8th World Day against the Death Penalty [JURIST report], specifically urging the US, Iran and China to end the death penalty.

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