January 30th, 1998
1997, A Year of continuing violence
Casa Alianza Guatemala announced that its Legal Aid Office statistics
for 1997 show that the last 12 months continued to be full of
violence towards abandoned children for that country's street
against Guatemalan Street Children
Casa Alianza, a non profit agency that has provided rehabilitation
services for thousands of street children in Guatemala since 1981,
presented a total of 59 criminal lawsuits in the last year, bringing
the total of pending cases to an astonishing 365.
An unidentified 10-year-old street boy, tortured with several machete
cuts on his face and torso then thrown beneath a bridge, was one of
the six children murdered in 1997. Due to the lack of adequate
investigations, this and many other cases will probably never be
resolved. Another 12 children were victims of grievous bodily harm.
As a result of recent joint investigations between Casa Alianza and
the Procurator General of Guatemala, a total of 15 lawyers have been
formally accused by Casa Alianza of illegalities in international
adoptions. The processes have to be further investigated by the often
unwilling Public Prosecutor's Office.
The Casa Alianza Legal Aid Office, a unique project initiated with
Canadian government funding and now financed by the European Union,
notes in their 1997 statistics that the number of National Policemen
involved in violence against street children has dropped to six,
considered "a significant positive difference compared to the period
of 1992 to 1994 where close to 50 policemen a year were involved in
torturing or murdering our children", stated Bruce Harris, the
Executive Director for Latin American Programs for Casa Alianza - a
branch of the New York based Covenant House.
In 1997 there was a significant increase in the numbers of private
citizens who took to harming the street children. "With the
frustration of an ineffective judicial system, people feel that they
have to resort to physical violence against street children", informed
Harris. Forty-one individuals either beat up or murdered Guatemalan
abandoned children in 1997. "Unless the judicial system starts to
function efficiently and restores people's faith in the justice
dispensed, we should expect an even greater increase in violence by
Casa Alianza established the Legal Aid Office in 1990, after the
murder of 13 year old street boy Nahaman Carmona Lopez by four
uniformed policemen. Since that time, Casa Alianza has presented 365
criminal accusations against more than 530 individuals, mostly members
of the State's security forces.
In seven years, just 14 cases have been resolved by the Guatemalan
judicial system - less than 4%. Five Casa Alianza cases are in the
final stages before going to a sentencing Tribunal, yet an astonishing
184 cases have been filed due to a lack of investigation by the
authorities. "It is these filed cases which are being prepared for the
Inter American Commission on HRights", informed Harris,
illustrating the agency's determination to look for justice in the
cases of murdered children. "We are not willing nor able to throw in
the towel and let the authorities literally get away with murder".
In 1997, Casa Alianza served an average of 265 children per day in
residential programs, and a further 1,550 children during the year who
have been unable to overcome their addiction to the street.