Guatemala Lifts Moratorium on Executions; President Gets Power to Pardon, Commute

Guatemalan lawmakers on Tuesday gave the president the ability to pardon or commute death sentences, lifting a five-year hold on executions.

The law, approved 140-3, gives President Alvaro Colom the authority to decide whether the more than 30 prisoners sentenced to death in Guatemala are executed by lethal injection or have their sentences commuted to 50 years in prison, the maximum allowed under Guatemalan law.

"The floor took a decision of great responsibility to punish murderers and kidnappers" said Congressman Mario Taracena, of Colom's Unity of Hope party.

Guatemala is a signatory to the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, which requires that those sentenced to capital punishment be given the right to appeal for a pardon from the president or other authority.

Executions were suspended in 2002 when a court determined that presidential reprieves on death penalty cases were unconstitutional, creating a legal gap that suspended all executions.

The last time Guatemala executed a prisoner was in 2000, when two members of a kidnapping ring were executed by lethal injection on live television.