government: constitutional democratic republic
state of civil and political rights: Partly free
constitution: 14 January 1986, amended in November 1993
legal system: civil law system; judicial review of legislative acts
legislative system: unicameral Congress of the Republic (Congreso de la Republica)
judicial system: Supreme Court of Justice, Constitutional Court
religion: Roman Catholic, Protestant, indigenous Mayan beliefs
death row: 0
year of last executions: 29-6-2000
death sentences: 0
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
The Guatemalan penal code (1973) provides for the death penalty for parricide, aggravated homicide and assassination of the President or Vice-President.
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.
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.
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 December 18, 2008 Guatemala abstained on the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.
On December 21st, 2010 Guatemala voted in favour of the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.