Press Release

IACHR Takes Cases involving Guatemala to the Inter-American Court

December 19, 2017

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Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in three cases involving the implementation of the death penalty in Guatemala: Case 11.834, Manuel Martínez Coronado; Case 11.686, Roberto Girón and Pedro Castillo; and Case 12.650, Hugo Humberto Ruiz Fuentes. The three cases have to do with the State’s international responsibility for due process violations committed in the context of criminal cases that ended with the imposition of the death penalty.

In the Merits Reports on the three cases, the IACHR recommended that the State provide full redress for the human rights violations laid out in the reports; investigate the acts of torture and the extrajudicial execution of Hugo Humberto Ruiz Fuentes; and adopt the necessary legislative measures to make the public defender system stronger and more effective, especially in cases that involve the possible imposition of severe penalties.

In the Merits Reports, the Commission also noted and commended the fact that the death penalty has not been imposed by judicial authorities in Guatemala for 17 years, and that for more than a decade this sentence has been commuted for those already convicted. The Commission also commended the fact that for years the executive branch has adopted measures to prevent the death penalty from being reactivated in Guatemala. The Commission understands that, in practice, the Guatemalan State has been moving toward abolishing the death penalty, which is consistent with the spirit of the American Convention on this issue.

Given the existing practice in Guatemala for the past 17 years, and considering that the IACHR indicated in its report The Death Penalty in the Inter-American Human Rights System: From Restrictions to Abolition that the States should gradually eliminate the death penalty, the Commission recommended to Guatemala in the Merits Reports that it adopt the necessary measures so that its domestic laws are consistent with that practice, and thus continue on the path toward abolishing the death penalty.

Since the adoption of the Merits Reports by the IACHR, progress has been made toward abolishing the death penalty in Guatemala. On October 24, 2017, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala found that the application of the death penalty was unconstitutional for five crimes included in the Criminal Code, and it revoked references to the death penalty that allowed for its application under the Anti-Drug Trafficking Law. In March 2016, the same court had already declared this penalty to be unconstitutional for the crime of murder. With this year’s decision, a spokesman for the Constitutional Court indicated that “for all practical purposes” there is now no crime for which the death penalty could be applied in the country.

The IACHR welcomes this step forward. The IACHR especially commends the fact that this decision by the Constitutional Court eliminated the possibility of considering the legal concept of “dangerousness” as a factor in imposing the death penalty, a step the Commission had called for in its Merit Report in Case 11.834, Manuel Martínez Coronado. The IACHR also welcomes the Constitutional Court’s decision to remove the possibility of applying the death penalty in the case of the laws that were mentioned, thus complying with the inter-American standards that require moving toward the abolition of the death penalty. Nevertheless, the death penalty continues to be contemplated in the Constitution of Guatemala.

The Inter-American Commission submitted the three cases to the Inter-American Court’s jurisdiction on November 30, 2017, because it deemed that the State had not complied with the recommendations contained in the Merits Reports.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the respect for and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 211/17