HC Deb 04 May 1988 vol 132 cc865-7
3. Mr. Patchett

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what instructions were sent to the British embassy in Guatemala in connection with the return of the Guatemalan exiles on Monday 18 April.

12. Mr. Ron Davies

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what instructions were sent to the British embassy in Guatemala in connection with the return of the Guatemalan exiles on Monday 18 April.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tim Eggar)

Her Majesty's ambassador was requested to monitor the situation carefully and to keep us informed of developments.

Mr. Patchett

Is the Minister satisfied that the right action was taken on 18 April with regard to the Guatemalan exiles, bearing in mind the Guatemalan Government's shocking human rights record?

Mr. Eggar

Yes, I am entirely satisfied that the right action was taken. Two of the returning exiles were arrested, examined and released by the examining magistrate.

Mr. Ron Davies

I am surprised that the Minister did not have the courtesy to notify me before Question Time that my question was being linked with question No. 3. I am sure that it was an oversight.

When the exiles returned they were under the impression that human rights had not improved in Guatemala. Inasmuch as the Arias peace plan puts emphasis on human rights as well as other matters, does the Minister not think that he should make strenuous representations to the Guatemalan Government to ensure that the peace plan, particularly the part relating to human rights, is implemented?

Mr. Eggar

I apologise unreservedly to the hon. Gentleman. I remember being annoyed when I was in a similar position, and I shall look into the matter.

The question of human rights in Guatemala is raised regularly at ministerial level with our Guatemalan counterparts. Human rights violations decreased sharply in 1986, but there has been a regrettable increase in murders and kidnappings over the past 15 months. It is not clear how far these incidents are politically motivated, but we pay considerable attention to the United Nations special expert who reported in March that there had been an improvement in the human rights situation and noted that the present Guatemalan Government do not sanction violations of human rights.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Would it not be rather unfortunate if the House took a partisan opinion on the internal politics of Guatemala, particularly when the democratic Government of Guatemala, under President Cerezo, is having to take a delicate line between the military on the one hand and the Left wing on the other?

Mr. Eggar

My hon. Friend draws attention to some of the complexities that have to be taken into account when one is considering events in Guatemala. None the less, I know he will agree with me that we have the right, under the various UN conventions, to comment on human rights abuses.

Mr. Colin Shepherd

Will my hon. Friend outline to the House the measures that Her Majesty's Government are taking to promote the survival of democracy in Guatemala?

Mr. Eggar

My hon. Friend is aware that there were democratic elections, and since that time we have been able to resume diplomatic relations with Guatemala for the first time in 24 years. We have had regular contacts with Guatemalan Ministers and with the ambassador here.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

The Minister may be aware that I went to Guatemala with those returning exiles. Does he accept that there is a considerable body of opinion inside Guatemala, not from those who have a political bias but from those such as Church groups who operate on the ground, which says that the human rights situation and the atrocities and murders, once one is outside the urban areas and into the rural areas, are just as bad as ever, and that those atrocities are committed by the forces of the state, particularly the army? Will he make sure that the British Government note that fact, because the Minister has given the impression that he wants to distance himself from the view that the violence is Government-inspired? The reality is that agencies of the Guatemalan Government are still actively involved in the atrocities.

Mr. Eggar

I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has the advantage of having visited Guatemala, and I trust that he did so with an open mind and talked to a number of people right across the spectrum. I would expect no less from him. I must ask him to take account of the United Nations' special expert's report on human rights in Guatemala. He reported to the United Nation's Commission on Human Rights in Geneva and, as I have already made clear, he noted some improvement in the human rights situation and stated that the present Government do not sanction violations. If we believe in furthering the cause of human rights through the United Nation's machinery, we must pay attention to reports from its experts.

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