Peru leader seeks constitution change on execution

LIMA, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Adamant despite setbacks in his drive to make the death penalty legal, Peruvian President Alan Garcia wants to change the constitution to allow referendums on the issue.

In a statement issued late on Saturday, Garcia said he would seek a referendum to change Article 32 of the constitution, which says cases limiting basic rights are not subject to referendums. Simultaneously, a referendum would be held allowing capital punishment for child rapists.

Earlier last week Garcia proposed a nationwide poll on capital punishment to be applied for terrorists.

Garcia's death penalty proposals were part of campaign pledges that won him last year's election in the Andean country.

On Wednesday, Congress voted down a Garcia bill that would have added the death penalty for terrorists to the penal code. Capital punishment for terrorists is permitted under Peru's 1993 constitution. But the penal code does not allow it under any circumstance.

The next day, after the first defeat for his 5-month-old government in Congress, Garcia proposed holding a referendum to introduce executions for terrorists, but Justice Minister Maria Zavala said the idea clashed with the country's constitution. Now he wants to amend the constitution.

Critics have called Garcia's death penalty drive "populist" and harmful to Peru's international image.

But Peruvians broadly support the idea. Many still have painful memories of deadly bombings and raids by Maoist rebels between 1980 and 1998. Several thousand leftist rebels have been sentenced to long prison terms for terrorism.

"It is saddening that while 80 percent of the population support this measure, those who call themselves its representatives are ... trying to undemocratically block the will of the Peruvian people," Garcia's statement said.

Lourdes Flores, head of the opposition National Unity alliance, called Garcia's drive "autocratic."

"He says: 'I'm the president and everybody follows me. My word is the law.' Peru doesn't have to follow his caprice. This is autocracy," she told a local radio.

Congress has to approve a referendum, a move that analysts say is unlikely. There are juridical hitches as well.


Congressional deputies said approving capital punishment would have breached the American Convention on Human Rights, which Peru has signed. It says the signatories cannot restore the death penalty or apply it more widely.

Javier Perez de Cuellar, a Peruvian former secretary-general of the United Nations, said referring to the convention that "Peru has contractual obligations that impede death penalty."

"It (the death penalty proposal) has to be dismissed," he said in televised comments.

Cesar Landa, president of the constitutional tribunal, did not rule out the referendum process going ahead, but said his court would have the final say on the issue if the proposed changes were approved via the referendum and then by Congress.

"Some amendments can affect the juridical security of the country ... Regardless of how popular they may be, amendments have to be constitutional," he said, explaining that a juridical debate was under way on whether the Article 32 can be modified at all.