It is rare that Guatemala gets any attention in the chambers of Westminster, so I was pleased to see that a parliamentary question has been asked about it recently. During the fourteenth session of the UN Human Rights Council a motion was passed relating to enforced disappearances, interestingly one of its sponsors is Guatemala. The motion calls on states, among other things, to “continue their efforts to elucidate the fate of disappeared persons”.
Guatemala is anecdotally credited with having made”desaparecer” (to disappear) into a transitive verb due to its recourse to the disappearance by its security forces during the long years of the civil war. The Commission of Historical Clarification estimated the number of disappeared at approximately 45,000, a number which dwarfs those of other countries in Latin America with better known “dirty wars”, both absolutely and per head. As far as clarification goes there is a lot of it still to be done: the proposed Comisión Nacional de Búsqueda de Desaparecidos (National Commission to Search for the Disappeared) is still not in existence, even though it has been in discussion in Congress since 2007. This interview with the head of Red Cross in Guatemala makes clear the continuing suffering attendant on those left behind by their disappeared relative, exemplifying why it is considered to be a continuing crime as long as no body is found.
There has been one positive development recently, as we now have the first conviction for the crime of forced disappearance, though as usual not without threats against witnesses.
Anyway, to return to where we came in, MP Adrian Sanders’ question asks what the UK government is going to take to ensure the motion is fulfilled, in particular in relation to Guatemala. I’m glad to know that the UK regards human rights in Guatemala as a key issue – though I would be more convinced if they hadn’t conspicuously cut the number of embassy staff while increasing their workload over the last few years.