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2016 2016-02-04T20:19:17+0300 2016-02-18T15:35:15+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

The history of the death penalty in Mexico has a very old and deep roots. The jurisprudence of the Aztec state had the death penalty and the forms were terrible in their diversity, ranging from decapitation and dismemberment to stoning and hanging. Also, in the era of the Aztecs human lives used to be sacrificed to the gods (often these were prisoners).

In the early 16th century, the territory of Mexico was occupied by Spain for 300 years, and the time of the Holy Inquisition started.

The movement towards the abolition of the death penalty in Mexico began in the 19th century after gaining independence, being a part of a general trend for the South and Central America. Since the declaration of independence in 1824 and up to the adoption of the Constitution in 1857, the head of the state changed 40 times and the death penalty was often used to eliminate political opponents. Therefore, the prohibition of the death penalty for political crimes in the Constitution was a breakthrough at the time.

At the same time, the abolition of the death penalty received a wide public debate and there appeared many opponents of this method of fighting crime. The majority of members of the drafting committee of the Federal Criminal Code of 1871 opposed the death penalty and recommended that it be eliminated. However, the head of the committee, Martinez de Castro, rejected the idea as a threat to the national security, citing the unstable political situation (the recent civil war and the Anglo-French-Spanish intervention) and deficient prison system. Nevertheless, it was decided that the death penalty would no longer be carried out in public.

The death penalty was eliminated from the Federal Criminal Code of Mexico in 1929 and the independent states began to phase out its use (the last execution for a criminal offense occurred in 1937 in the state of Puebla). From that time, serious crimes could be punished with life imprisonment. However, the death penalty was abolished in certain states of Mexico even before that reform on the federal level. For instance, the State of Michoacan did it in 1924.

After the abolition of the death penalty for criminal offenses, it was retained only in the Military Code as a penalty for war crimes and was used until 1961 (the last execution, concerning the soldier Constante Laureano, took place in Mexico on August 9, 1961). In practice, the death sentences were imposed even later, but the presidents used their constitutional authority and replaced it with life imprisonment. The last such decision was taken by the Mexican President in 2003.

However, Mexico's Constitution contained an article about the death penalty for a long time, which gave politicians an opportunity for manipulations. For instance, during the presidential elections in 1988 one of the candidates stated that he could consider the question of holding a referendum for introducing the death penalty. However, the idea caused a widespread public resistance and the referendum wasn't held.

The last provision of the Military Code that envisaged the death penalty was abolished in 2005. April 21, the Mexican Chamber of Deputies unanimously voted for reforming the Military Criminal Code and replacing the death penalty with imprisonment for a term of 30 to 60 years for serious crimes. In addition, the Mexican House of Representatives approved a bill of constitutional reform in June 2005, by 412 votes with 2 abstentions, which abolished the death penalty for all crimes. President Vicente Fox signed a bill amending articles 14 and 22 of the Constitution of the United Mexican States, which entered into force on December 9, 2005. The President called this step "historic" and said that "Mexico shares the view that the death penalty is a violation of human rights".

The hard crime situation in the country contributes to the attempts of some politicians to return this issue to a vote. In December 2008, the governor of the northern state of Coahuila introduced a bill in the Mexican Congress to restore the death penalty for the kidnapping accompanied with assassinations. The Ecological Party of Mexico stands for the death penalty in all cases of murder. However, all attempts to resume the death penalty face with a strong resistance of the public and the Church, and therefore have so far been unsuccessful.

In September 2007, Mexico acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Protocol of the American Convention on Human Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty. At the UN General Assembly in 2007 Mexico voted in favor of resolution A/RES/62/149, calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty. It also kept to this stance during the subsequent votes in 2008, 2010 and 2012.

Mexico is an open critic of the use of the death penalty by the US. In 2004, Mexico requested
the revision of 51 cases against Mexican nationals on death row in the United States, and was supported by the International Court of Justice, as the United States does not fulfill its obligations to provide access of consuls to suspected Mexican citizens. Also, Mexico does not extradite to the US criminal suspects without a commitment that they will not be sentenced to death.

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