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Alexander Aizenstatd Wins Landmark Constitutional Case on the Law of Torture


In a ruling published on October 2nd, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala sided with N. Alexander Aizenstatd ’09 LL.M., J.S.D. ’17 in a landmark case that challenged the national definition of the crime of torture. The case argued that torture as defined in the criminal code was unconstitutional because it was inconsistent with international standards contained in the U.N. and Inter-American conventions against Torture. The national definition was more stringent and did not characterize actions carried out the purpose of discrimination or punishment as torture.

The court ruled in favor of the challenge presented by Alexander and declared that the definition of torture was unconstitutional. Alexander who is also a Professor of law in Guatemala at Universidad Rafael Landivar explained that the ruling was relevant for several reasons. First, the Court referred to the international definition of torture as a mandatory parameter under national law, a reasoning that will now be applicable to other international crimes. Second, it is the first time a constitutional challenge by omission has been successful in Guatemala´s history. Third, the Court held that international human rights treaties are now a part of the Constitution itself. This has redefined the position of human rights treaty law in the national legal order. The ruling can be found in the Court´s website at http://www.cc.gob.gt  [Inconstitucionalidad por Omisión. No. 1822-2011] (in Spanish).

Alexander explained that his decision to become involved in human rights litigation was a direct result of his experience at YLS as an LL.M. and inspired by the example of Professors W. Michael Reisman and Harold Koh.

Alexander has been admitted for practice in Guatemala and the State of New York. He is a former Visiting Professional Attorney at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (2011) and a former Visiting Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (2010).