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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 January, 2004, 08:52 GMT
UK activist wins Guatemala trial
Bruce Harris shows poster of child which reads
Bruce Harris is a respected campaigner
A Guatemalan court has found a leading UK children's rights campaigner not guilty of defaming a prominent adoption lawyer in the Central American state.

Bruce Harris, director of the Casa Alianza children's rights group, had faced a lengthy prison sentence.

He had suggested at a news conference in 1997 that lawyer Susana Luarca had used her influence to speed up lucrative international adoptions.

Ms Luarca vowed to appeal against the verdict, using "all legal channels".

"This does not finish here," she told Reuters news agency.

Mr Harris, who earlier described the case against him as an attempt to "shut him up", said his win in court was a broader victory.

"It is not me who has won this case," he said.

"Those who won are the people who want to resolve the social problems that affect the childhood of this country."

Guatemala has the highest per capita rate of international adoption in the world with nearly 3,000 babies leaving the country last year alone.

'Persecution'

Bruce Harris, who is based in Costa Rica, was awarded the Order of the British Empire medal in 2000 for his work with homeless children in Central America.

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

He was backed during his trial 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.

Frank La Rue of the Guatemalan Government's human rights commission said he was "delighted" by Friday's verdict.

Correspondents note that the Guatemalan authorities are keen to shed the country's image as a violator of human rights since the dark days of the 36-year civil war which ended in 1996 after some 200,000 people had been killed.


SEE ALSO:
Guatemala's baby business
01 Sep 00  |  Crossing Continents
Guatemala army 'seized children'
08 Aug 00  |  Americas
Country profile: Guatemala
15 Jan 04  |  Country profiles


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