Skip to main content


Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 13 May 2008

3. What recent assessment he has made of the human rights situation in Guatemala; and if he will make a statement. (204797)

We are encouraged by Guatemala’s participation in the United Nations universal periodic review of human rights. As part of this process, the UK has raised its ongoing concerns about the human rights situation in Guatemala—in particular, widespread impunity, child rights, human rights defenders and the rise in murders of girls and women. I raised these issues with the Guatemalan Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Vice-Minister, during my recent visit.

I thank my hon. Friend for her answer. She will be aware that there were 6,000 murders in Guatemala last year, which is equivalent to 28,000 murders in a country the size of Britain. There are terrible problems with policing and the justice system in that country. Will she comment on the recent Bill on the death penalty vetoed by President Colom?

Certainly—my hon. Friend is absolutely right about these concerns. We have also been putting in support for training of police officers. The UK worked with EU partners and we were successful in lobbying President Colom to veto the recent law that the congress had passed seeking to restore the death penalty. I stressed with the Guatemalan Minister for Foreign Affairs the importance of finally abolishing the death penalty. I can assure my hon. Friend that the UK and the EU will continue to work towards the abolition of that in its entirety.

Does the Minister agree that if the new President of Guatemala, Álvaro Colom, is serious about human rights, he will deal with the corruption in the judiciary, in the army and in some parts of the Government, and he will introduce the measures that he said he would introduce prior to his election as President to deal with what is perhaps Latin America’s worst human rights record?

The hon. Gentleman raises important points. During my visit in April, I had a frank discussion with Ministers about their unacceptable human rights position. They insisted that the Colom Government would work energetically to improve matters, but clearly those good intentions need to be put into action and we will continue to press the Guatemalan Government on the fact that good human rights are essential to good democracy.

I would like to thank the Minister for visiting Guatemala and for raising human rights concerns with the Government there. She must be aware of the marginalisation of women, particularly non-Spanish speaking women, in society; they have little access to justice or human rights and are fearful of the army and the police in all that they do. Is there anything that she can do by way of providing practical or financial support to human rights defenders and human rights advocates, and training programmes for them, so that they can try to defend themselves legally against unaccountable forces?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those are the precise issues that we raised. The Department for International Development has committed £60,000 in support of a United Nations anti-impunity commission in Guatemala, and there is a range of other support for projects there. Perhaps I can write to my hon. Friend in greater detail on that.