Fwd[2]:[rapid-response] European Parliament comes down hard

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Subject: Fwd[2]:[rapid-response] European Parliament comes down hard
From: by way of Melanie Orhant (caldwellg@lchr.org )
Date: Wed Jan 27 1999 - 09:30:44 EST


January 21st, 1999.

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT COMES DOWN HARD ON
GUATEMALA OVER THE ILLEGAL TRAFFICKING OF BABIES.

The European Parliament has voted, unanimously, to approve a
resolution on the illegal trafficking of babies in Guatemala which
calls on the European Commission, and member states, to bring
sustained international pressure on the Guatemalan government to
shape up its act, and put and end to the "illegal methods of
adoption [which] are still common practise in Guatemala."

The resolution, voted upon last Friday, paints a damning picture of
the international adoption process in Guatemala, stating that "in
Guatemala over 2,000 international adoptions were carried out by
a small group of lawyers at an average cost of US$ 15,000-
20,000," in 1997 alone. In total the parliament approved eight
recommendations which acknowledged the importance of legal
international adoptions, but which criticised the State of Guatemala for
failing to ratify the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption;
failing to strengthen its international adoption laws and failing to put
into effect the Juvenile and Adolescent Code which Guatemala
must do in order to meet its obligations under the UN Convention
on the Rights of the Child of which it is a signatory.

"Now the 15 countries that form the European Union, Guatemala's
second largest trading partner, have unanimously stated their
concern over continuing illegal adoptions in Guatemala. I hope that
with this clear signal of anxiety, the Guatemalan Congress will
finally assume its responsibility of passing a strong adoptions law
and also the Juvenile Code. To do anything less is to dangerously
ignore the fact that the world is watching what is happening,"
commented Bruce Harris Regional Director of Casa Alianza. The
agency, which has its regional headquarters in San José, Costa
Rica, along with its sister organisation - New York based Covenant
House - is the largest provider of care to homeless and abandoned
children in the Americas.

In addition, amongst other recommendations, the European
Parliament "calls on the Guatemalan government and Member
States to prosecute those involved in the illegal trafficking of babies
and children," and requests the State of Guatemala "guarantee the
safety of those people" working to stop the illegal trafficking of
babies who are "subject to threats and intimidation."

In Guatemala the number of international adoptions have almost
doubled in the last 12 months, a situation which the European
Parliament states could become worse given recent political and
natural events. "Whereas in the last few years, due to the internal
conflict and the recent disaster caused by hurricane Mitch, the
number of orphaned and abandoned minors and of people willing to
give their children up for adoption for economic reasons has
increased," states the resolution. The European Parliament
highlighted this growth by contrasting it with Guatemala's poor
legal infrastructure and ability to combat the problem, "the current
Guatemalan penal code does not typify the trafficking of children as
a crime and ..the theft of children merely carries a one year
suspended sentence" it added.

The Parliament also drew attention to the defamation case against
British born Bruce Harris and in a rare move named him in person
and called on the European Commission and Member states to
investigate his case. Harris was accused of defamation by lawyer
Susana Maria Luarca Saracho de Umaña, whose husband Ricardo
Umaña is a magistrate and former president of the Guatemalan
Supreme Court, after he and the Attorney General alleged Mrs.
Umaña had been involved in the trafficking of influence within the
country's international adoption process. Casa Alianza and the
Attorney General's office presented 15 criminal accusations
against Guatemalan lawyers for illegalities in the international
adoptions they have handled The British Minister of State for Latin
America Mr Tony Lloyd MP also spoke out recently over the case
of Bruce Harris stating that the British government "continues to
express concern over Harris' personal safety" and that the court
case against him, "conforms to the human rights standards to
which Guatemala is committed under its domestic law and its
international obligations."

Defamation in Guatemala is a criminal offence rather than a civil
offence as in international law, and 'truth' is no defence in the eyes
of Guatemalan law, again in contrast to international law. Harris
faces a 5 year jail term if convicted.

For more information please contact Casa Alianza on + 506 253
5439 or <media@casa-alianza.org>. For more background
information on the illegal trafficking of babies within Guatemala and the
defamation case against Bruce Harris please visit our Web
page at <http://www.casa-alianza.org/EN/human-rights/illegal-
adop> and <http://www.casa-alianza.org/EN/human-rights/illegal-
adop/bhcase> respectively.

______________
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION
FULL TEXT

European Parliament
13th January 1999

On the illegal trafficking of babies coming from Guatemala

- having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

- having regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of
the Child of 20 November 1989,

- having regard to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children
and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption of 29 May
1993,

- having regard to its resolution of 12 December 1996 on improving the
law and co-operation between Member States on the adoption
of minors (OJ C.20,20.1.1997, p176)

A. Whereas international adoptions when carried out with proper
procedures and guaranties for the baby or child often offers him/her an
opportunity for better living conditions and whereas international
adoption is also an important form of international co-operation;

B. Whereas it is a matter of priority not to penalise international
adoption as such but to provide this process with transparent and
balanced rules;

C. Whereas the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child only
recognises inter-country adoption as an alternative if the child can not
be cared for in a suitable manner in his home country and that the
Convention states that all parties should take all appropriate measures to
ensure that inter-country adoption does not result in improper financial
gain;

D. Whereas in the last few years, due to the internal conflict and
the recent disaster caused by hurricane Mitch, the number of
orphaned and abandoned minors and of people willing to give their
children up for adoption for economic reasons has increased;

E. Whereas in 1997 in Guatemala over 2,000 international
adoptions were carried out by a small group of lawyers at an
average cost of US$ 15,000-20,000;

F. Whereas international adoptions in Guatemala have almostd
oubled in the last 12 months;

G. Concerned by reports that illegal methods of adoption are still
common practise in Guatemala;

H. Whereas the current Guatemalan penal code does not typify the
trafficking of children as a crime and whereas the theft of children
merely carries a one year suspended sentence;

I. Whereas Children's rights NGO's and those working on the item
of illegal adoption of babies in Guatemala have been
subject to acts of threats and intimidation;

1. Recognises the important role played by legal international
adoptions;

2. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to bring
sustained pressure to bear on the Guatemalan government to
promote national adoptions, to ratify the Hague Convention on Inter-
Country Adoption, to strengthen its international adoption laws and
to put into effect the Juvenile and Adolescent Code which will
reflect the Guatemalan obligations under the UN Convention of the
Rights of the Child;

3. Calls on the Guatemalan government and the Member States to
prosecute those involved in the illegal trafficking of babies and
children;

4. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to provide
financial assistance to the programmes of the Guatemalan
Attorney General's Office aimed at ensuring that the adoption
procedures comply with all the national and
international legal provisions;

5. Calls on the Member States to ensure that only public bodies or
organisations accredited by the state which are non-profit making
are permitted to act as intermediaries in adoption procedures;

6. Is seriously worried by the fact that those working to prevent the
illegal trafficking of children a subject to threats and intimidation
and calls on the Guatemalan government to guarantee the safety of
those people;

7. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to especially
investigate the case of the Latin American programs for Covenant
House (Casa Alianza), British born Bruce Harris, who has had
charges of defamation placed against him after speaking out on the
international adoption process in Guatemala;

8. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the European
Commission, the EU Member States, the government and
congress of Guatemala, the United Nations and UNICEF.

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