UK activist faces Guatemala trial

Date: 2004-01-22
Source: BBC

A prominent UK human rights campaigner goes on trial on Thursday in Guatemala on defamation charges related to an inquiry into adoption irregularities.

Bruce Harris, director of children's rights group Casa Alianza, faces up to five years in prison if found guilty.

Charges were brought by adoption lawyer Susan Luarca after he mentioned her name during the 1997 investigation.

Mr Harris says the case against him is an attempt to "shut him up" and he has been backed by human rights agencies.

Amnesty International expressed concern that the trial was "another form of persecution" of rights activists and Human Rights Watch said the trial violated the right to free expression.

Between 2000 and 2003, Amnesty reported the killing of at least 18 Guatemalan human rights defenders.

"Ten years ago, people came and covered our building with machine-gun fire," Mr Harris told Reuters news agency.

"Now people in power who don't want to relinquish that power are trying to shut us up with quasi-legal lawsuits."

'Insupportable crime'

Ms Luarca said she was surprised by such widespread support for Mr Harris.

"It is a crime that does not warrant support," Ms Luarca was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

International adoptions remain a significant activity in Guatemala - nearly 3,000 babies were adopted and taken out of the country last year.

Casa Alianza - affiliated with the US-based Covenant House - is one of the best-known groups lobbying for children's rights in Central America.


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