GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala's highest court has abolished the death penalty for civil cases in a landmark ruling announced Thursday.

The Constitutional Court's decision is final and will take effect once it is published in the government's official gazette.

Until now Guatemalan law has allowed for the death penalty in cases of murders of people younger than 12 or older than 60; kidnappings where the victim is severely hurt or dies; assassination of the president or VP; or in certain crimes related to drug trafficking.

"We cannot allow us 0to be one of the last countries that apply that penalty," said Jose Alejandro Valverth Flores, one of the lawyers who had petitioned the Constitutional Court to declare unconstitutional the pertinent articles of the penal code and a law governing drug crimes.

"We believe it is necessary for the respect of human rights in Guatemala," he added.

The Central American nation has not applied a death sentence for some years in line with a regional human rights agreement to which it is a signatory.

The death penalty remains on the books at least nominally for Guatemala's military judicial system.

According to the rights group Amnesty International, Guatemala is one of six places in the Americas that still have the death penalty, along with the United States including Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guyana and Jamaica.