The Human Rights Actions Network
Casa Alianza Oct. 4, 1997 In a sad and surprising move, the Guatemalan Congress yesterday suspended for the second time, the implementation of the Children and Juvenile Code that would benefit 54% of the population of Guatemala who are children. Guatemala was the 6th country in the world to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and, as a result, must adjust its internal laws to reflect the minimum requirements of the Convention. Currently the children of Guatemala are "objects" of a repressive Children's Code established in 1969. In September 1996, the Guatemalan Congress approved the new Children and Juvenile Code but postponed it's implementation for a 12 month period, until September 27th, 1997. The reasoning was to give the judicial authorities time to train and prepare judges and a new and innovative juvenile justice system. They did neither. In August 1997, the President of the Supreme Court requested yet another delay in the implementation of the new code, arguing again that the judges were not trained and that there was no funding available (despite more than US$ 2 million already having been given by international agencies and the year they had to train the judges!). There was a tremendous rejection of this idea by both local and international child support agencies. The funding argument was dismissed as UNICEF and others have offered to fund any deficiencies. After many meetings between organizations, Congressional representatives and the government, it was decided that the code would enter into effect in three stages on September 27th, 1997; January 1st, 1998 and March 27th, 1998. In a distasteful betrayal, on September 25th, 1997, the ruling party PAN (with a majority in Congress) voted to delay the total implementation of the new code until at least March 27th, 1998. The only person who can change this position is President Alvaro Arzu - also a member of PAN - with a Presidential veto. Under the present code, children can be indefinitely locked up "for their own benefit" in dangerous, repressive, ill-equipped government juvenile detention centers where the use of torture and beatings has been documented. They have no right to a defense lawyer nor independent appeals. The new Children and Juvenile Code changes all this and makes the child a "subject" of law, with a right to legal defense and to participate in legal proceedings that affect him or her. UNICEF describes the new code as one of the best in Latin America. ACTION REQUIRED: Please send a short, polite message to President Alvaro Arzu, requesting that he veto Decree 84-97, which allows for the postponing of the implementation of the new Children and Juvenile Code to March 27th, 1998. I know you are busy with many things to do, but PLEASE take a moment to help 5 million children in Guatemala to at least have the luxury of a law that respects and truly protects them from the abuses in that country. Please note the country from which you write and send to:
Alvaro Arzu, President of Guatemala Guatemalan government's human rights office With copies to the following media: Guatemalan Embassies And a copy to ON BEHALF OF THE CHILDREN, THANK YOU FOR YOUR HELP. PLEASE DO NOT UNDER ESTIMATE THE IMPACT OF YOUR MESSAGES....
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