REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION
1. Overview of the situation
As the Commission noted in the chapter on Paraguay of its 1988-89 Annual Report, one of the main commitments undertaken by General Rodriguez when he took office on February 3, 1989, was to establish a society that respects that law and human rights. He said at that time: “I believe that for human rights to be a reality and not merely an expression of desires there must be genuine democracy (not just a façade or a government that acts as it chooses), in which the rights to express opinions and to assemble peacefully are respected so that every citizen of Paraguay will have the same opportunities, without privileges of any kind.”
The Commission also pointed out holdover legal or de facto situations remaining from the Stroessner period, which had to be changed to make that goal a reality:
– Concentration of power in the executive branch and the governing party, which direct the other branches and require the mandatory membership of all government employees, including members of the armed forces.
– Lack of an election law and an election board organized to guarantee genuine democracy.
– Repressive laws and practices, especially regarding freedom of expression and association, involving both systematic violations of those rights and attacks by Government agents on freedom, personal integrity and property as routine police actions, for either political or personal reasons.
– The lack of an effective and independent judicial system.
– The failure to comply with legal or constitutional provisions in carrying out agrarian reform, including the violation of them without court orders, for the purpose of intimidation, in situations where the possession of or the title to settlements is disputed.
– The failure to respect the rights of Indian populations as provided for in Paraguayan law or in international agreements to which Paraguay is a party.
In February of this year, a delegation of the Commission carried out an on-site visit in Paraguay–as mentioned in Chapter II of this Report–with the consent and cooperation of the Government during which it had an opportunity to meet various representatives of different sectors of the population as well as the government leaders. The evaluation which follows is based on the information the Commission obtained during its visit as well as that collected since the publication of its last Annual Report in September of 1989.
As indicated below, the Commission has found that in the twelve months since General Rodriguez took office as President, the Government has taken measures and initiatives to restore the observance of the human rights set forth in the American Convention and has created a general climate that is more propitious for human rights. However, it has encountered legal and socio-economic difficulties and even habits and customs that hamper the full observance of human rights.
The heavy legacy of three decades of authoritarian government systematically violating human rights, which was reviewed in previous Commission reports, causes the government’s reform actions to encounter what are known in Paraguay as “pockets of resistance to democracy and to a government of law” and an economy that is depressed for many sectors, especially campesinos and Indians, whose demands pour forth when the vehicles of expression are opened up and democratic guarantees are observed.
These reform actions of the government in the human rights area have already resulted in specific steps, such as the repeal of repressive laws 294.22 and 209.70 (known as freedom killing laws –liberticidas”), the opening of judicial proceedings against some of the key persons accused of torture and other human rights violations during the Stroessner regime and trials for illegal enrichment, the eliminations of official obstacles to the freedom of expression, thought, and association, and steady improvement in freedoms and in the guarantees of personal freedom, judicial protection, due process, political rights, and access to public office.
The present Government has likewise promoted laws and encouraged the establishment of institutions to promote their implementation. The following should be noted: ratification of the American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San José) in the OAS, and of the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading treatment or Punishment of the United Nations and the corresponding American Convention; reform of the Election Code and the start of reform of the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedures Code; banning by law of membership in political parties by the military and the police; and establishment of the Human Rights Commission of the House of Deputies and the National Commission to Coordinate Rural Development (CONCODER), among others.
However, according to reports received, holdover situations from the dictatorship continue to affect this opening up of the society because of the attitudes and behavior–although restricted–of government agents interfering in the judicial process and employing excessive force in controlling alleged crimes and unnecessarily curtailing the rights of assembly and association. These cases, examples of which are given below, appear for the most part to be isolated holdovers from the previous state of affairs, but the Commission feels they should be eliminated.
2. The right to judicial protection
The present existence of speedy and effective judicial remedies to protect the basic rights of the Paraguayan people can be reviewed in the light of four factors: 1) the independence of the judiciary; 2) the existence of adequate procedural laws; 3) the competence of officers of justice and their respect for human rights; and 4) whether human rights abuses and violations by government agents are actually corrected.
On the first point, the Commission has been informed that the present government has started the process of separating the judiciary from the executive branch and the governing party, of which it has become a mere appendage in the past. In addition to the inclusion on the Supreme Court of independent jurists and even the opposition party members, it has become the practice to discuss the resumes of new judges and judicial officials with the Congressional committees concerned, which have members of opposition parties. Likewise, the Commission has received information from various sources that the practice of requiring membership in the Colorado Party for such appointments is being eliminated.
The Commission feels the following words of the Speaker of the House of Deputies regarding his concern over the status of the judiciary are noteworthy: “Most judges do not support the government’s efforts on behalf of democracy, but instead they impede those efforts by taking arbitrary actions that reveal the authoritarian philosophy they still follow.” In this respect the Commission wishes to note that the great majority of the judges, particularly in the lower courts, were appointed by the Stroessner Government.
Likewise, the Commission has been informed of the government’s decision to promote amendment of the constitution–a process that is expected to be completed by 1992–as regards the present provision that the terms of all judges expire every five years and that their renewal is at the discretion of the Executive. To replace this provision, the Ministry of justice is promoting the development of a stable career system for judges, plus the establishment of a judicial academy or school to provide advanced training for candidates and members of the judiciary.
Various provisions in the present Code of Penal Procedure that tend to be prejudicial to the rights of the persons on trial are being revised by the Ministry of Justice and Labor and the legislature. In general, these revisions are intended to eliminate scandalous juridical situations such as the present imprisonment of accused persons for longer periods than their eventual sentence, which occurs because of the delay in handing down final judgments. One indications of the severity of the problem is the fact that in the Tacumbu prison–the main jail in the country–90% of the detainees are awaiting sentence. This reform would provide remedies that would improve conditions in the prisons and make it possible to rehabilitate prisoners. The Commission insists on the urgency of this effort.
In its last report, the Commission drew attention to the need for a systematic effort to educate and train the police, armed forces, and officers of justice to respect human rights. In that connection, the Commission was pleased at the government’s decision to start a program of this kind in cooperation with United Nations technical organizations, and to promote collaboration with the Costa Rican-based Inter-American Human Rights Commission for the same purpose.
The last and perhaps the most important factor, which is a source of dispute, is the ability of the government, especially the judiciary, to correct human rights abuses and violations when they occur. Such effective correction should serve not only to restrain officials who do not observe the law and respect human rights, but also to ensure the people’s confidence in the exercise of their rights and their respect for the security forces and the machinery of justice.
In previous special reports, the Commission documented the systematic violation by the Paraguayan Government forces of the right to life, especially violations of the integrity of persons, and the consequent illegal imprisonment and maltreatment, which in some cases went so far as murder of political prisoners and opponents and common criminals. When the new government took over–according to data from the Human rights and Civic Education program, a branch of the School of Law and Diplomacy of the Universidad Católica “Nuestra Señora de la Asunción”–a total of 140 civilians and 22 members of the armed forces have been accused of killings, disappearances or torture during the General Stroessner regime. The Commission has been informed of the court trials of these cases, including the fact that seven police officers are being held for trial, including Pastor Coronel, who from 1967 on was Director of Police Investigations of the Capital, and Alberto Cantero, the former head of the Political Section of that Police Department. The Commission believes that as an important and valuable example of justice, that the Government use all necessary resources to carry out these processes, to establish who are responsible and to punish the guilty.
The Commission has found that the Government is now committed not to respect the previous practices of torture, mistreatment and abuses of authority. In February 1990, the Police inspector of Tyororo was arrested by court order and accused of mistreating the members of a campesino family; also arrested were members of a police patrol for reportedly inflicting severe bodily injury, illegal entry of homes, death threats, and illegal raids, in San Pedro de Paraná. In both cases, the courts investigated the complaints of the alleged victims, and ordered arrests to be made by the police and armed forces.
In summary, the Commission believes that the present Paraguayan Government is making serious efforts to establish the independence of the judiciary, improve procedural rules so as to achieve greater respect for the right of judicial protection and due process of law, ensure the competence and tenure of judges, and encourage officers of justice and officials to respect the human rights of the people of Paraguay. It also believes that the Government has made an effort to correct past human rights violations, but it concerned that while there has been no judicial policy of ignoring past offenses, the initiative of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the judicial effectiveness of actions to punish those offenses has been very limited.
The Commission also believes that , in view of the size of the task, the Government will have to continue and renew its efforts to fully guarantee the right of judicial protection because, as the experience of the last 12 months shows, the obstacles standing in the way of that effort, which is opposed by factions in and outside the judicial system are very large.
3. Right to live and the integrity of the person
Another problem the new government must address in connection with these rights was the backlog of unmet demands of populations sectors, especially in rural areas, that came forward to demand what they considered to be their rights as the Government reestablished freedoms, and that eventually, in making their demands, went beyond legal limits. This led the security forces to take action, sometimes on a large scale denounced as violative of human rights.
The difficult balance between respect for social demands–which the Government has explicitly recognized as valid–and the need t maintain public order and protect the rights of others has led to a government response that has increasingly been in accordance with the law. However, even in the opinion of government spokesmen it is a process that has not yet been completed, and the criteria of the government’s reasonableness of response needs to be revised.
Thus, in July 1989, a demonstration in downtown Asunción by campesinos from the towns of Juan de Mena and Cleto Romero was put down with the use of attack dogs that injured some demonstrators. Because of widespread criticism of this action, that kind of crow control has not been repeated.
Although it is a matter of public knowledge that there is an ongoing conflict situation in rural areas where squatter settlements of peasants are eliminated and the peasants are evicted by the security forces, those forces are operating under court orders.
The Commission has evaluated documents on various cases, such as those mentioned, including some that occurred in the period immediately before its visit. It has found prima facie evidence of the complexity of the cases, in which both the land owners and the squatter peasants have legal arguments to support their actions.
However, in eliminating these squatter settlements and evicting the peasants, the respect for human beings and their physical, psychological, and moral integrity have not been given proper priority. A reasonable approach in the use of force and excessive prudence in judicial preventive decisions should be based on that fundamental respect. Moreover, the Commission takes the view that respect for the right of real property ownership deserves the same consideration as the ownership of movable property, food, tools and documents by any citizen.
Having said that, the Commission must point out that it has found that the government is making an effort to attack the crux of the problem though the action of institutions coordinated by CONCODER, which is reviewed in the following chapter.
However, there are complaints and evidence that the force employed was in many cases unreasonable–for example, in the violent elimination of squatter settlements in Tavai Borda, department of San Pedro; in Colonia Chacoré, in the department of Caaguazú; in the Kilometer 28 of Alto Paraná; and in early February 1990 in the department of Itapua, violence was employed in making arrests, the farms, food supplies, and tools of campesinos that had occupied land owned by others were destroyed and their crops were plowed under by tractors and bulldozers.
In Colonia Chacoré, Alto Paraná, the squatters are campesinos who have been living there for 12 years and their neighborhood committee is officially recognized by the Rural Welfare Institute, under Res. 427/86, which guarantees their ownership of some 600 hectares of government land. Despite that, and the fact that legal proceedings for obtaining title to the land had been instituted with CONCODER, two attempts were made to evict the campesinos–the last by court order–which included arrests and destruction of farms, tools and crops. The Commission received information indicating that the Supreme Court responded immediately to the habeas corpus petition filed in this case.*
Another case reported to the Commission is the violent clash between striking workers and the armed forces, at the entrance of the Itaípu dam project. In that clash, two workers were killed by gunshot and 17 workers and a soldier were wounded. The strike had begun in mid-1989, and most of the wage and working condition demands had been met, so the only unresolved issue involved recognition and legal status for the striking union, which was disputed by four other unions on the project.
The striking workers tried to block entry to the project of buses carrying nonstriking workers. The armed forces intervened, and the shots fired and blows struck resulted in the injured and loss of life. The justice system and the Human Rights Commission of the House of Deputies immediately intervened, each carrying out its individual duties. The Commission believes that the judicial system should promptly and impartially do its job and determine who were responsible for any violations of the law. In talks with government officials concerned, the Commission thinks that it is important that steps be taken to avoid the occurrence of similar situations.
rights and the rural problem
The Commission feels that it is impossible to analyze the current status of human rights in Paraguay without considering the rural property rights problem, in view of the actual and potential violence occurring in connection with this issue.
On its “in loco” visit, the Commission has received position statements from various farm organizations, whose stand is similar to the following paragraphs summarizing one of them:
… Peasants depend for the livelihood on the means of production, primarily the land. It is a matter of public knowledge that during the dictatorship large areas of our land were expropriated and given to General Stroessner’s friends and supporters … For us campesinos the land is part of our life, and denying it to us is violating our basic right–the right to life.
Accordingly, thousands of campesinos throughout the country, driven by this necessity and with their peaceful complaints ignored, have embarked on a struggle to recover their land by settling on the idle land of large estates.
At present, hundreds of peasants are detained in police stations throughout the country because of land disputes …
The official information provided to the Commission by the Government and its agencies indicates that in this area and in general, the new government is facing a difficult social situation because, according to official figures, there are some 60,000 landless campesino families in a critical position and another 120,000 campesino families that own less that the minimum productive unit of land (CONCODER report):
It has been the present government’s explicit intent to find legal and humanitarian solutions to this problem as soon as possible. To that end, it has set up the National Council to Coordinate Rural Development (CONCODER), which coordinates the work of all government agencies and representatives of community organizations. Under decree 2444/89, CONCODER is allocated for its work “all property recovered in suits brought against the government for crimes and illicit enrichment ….”
its statement to this Commission, CONCODER indicated that its activities take
into consideration, “among other factors affecting landless peasant families,
the size of the family (averaging 6.3 members), their high rate of illiteracy
(over 50% of adult functional illiteracy) and a biological-physical development
affected by overcrowding, malnutrition and a high birth rate.”
CONCODER adds further on: “Thus far, CONCODER’s action, although limited and insufficient, is aimed at putting out brush fires, covering operating costs, and above all, coordinating the community’s timely and organized participation.”
the eight months from July 1989 to February 1990, CONCODER had 63 settlement
applications with an average of over 300 families per settlement, and settled
6,000 families during that period, with another 10,000 scheduled for settlement
in 1990. At the time of the
Commission’s visit, it was informed that there were 35 expropriation requests
awaiting decision by the National Congress.
The Commission has likewise received extensive information on social,
political, legal, land-management, land title and other problems that CONCODER
and its operating agency, the Rural Welfare Institute (IBR) must address in this
The Freedom of
Commission considers that during this period the Paraguayan Government has taken
steps to ensure the observance of this right for the most part.
Thus in the area of labor unions, it has recognized over 135 unions and
all of the union federations that have applied for registration.
In interviews with the three labor federations, it confirmed that freedom
of association in labor unions was being observed.
The main political parties also reported in the Commission’s interviews
that their freedom of association was being observed.
crucial topic in this regard is the previous practice of requiring membership in
the governing party to hold any public sector position, including in the armed
forces and educational institutions. The
Commission has been informed that this practice is dying out and that the
government is determined to eradicate it. To
that end, the Parliament has just approved Electoral Code article prohibiting
membership in political parties for military and police officer.
Commission was informed that it is taking steps, although they are not yet fully
effective, to eliminate the practice of withholding mandatory quotas from
government employees’ salaries to fund the activities of the governing party
and its official newspaper. Again,
the Commission trusts that the government’s efforts to put an end to these
practices will be completed soon.
Commission has received complaints, however, about alleged violations of the
right of association set forth in the American Convention and the Paraguayan
Constitution, through acts of antiunion discrimination and reprisals by
companies. In this regard, the
Commission has received the rules protecting labor unions, and to prevent
reprisals against union membership drives.
The Right of Assembly
The Commission feels that the right of assembly is observed in Paraguay, but there exist illegal restrictions in other cases. There are daily accounts in the press of examples of that right being observed in all fields. A particularly illustrative example was the commemoration by 1,500 landless campesinos in San Pedro de Ycuamandyyu on February 8, 1990, on the 15th anniversary of the violent attack by armed forces units in 1975 on the campesino settlement of San Isidro del Jejui. That commemoration was peaceful and was not molested by the authorities.
Commission however found that there were some restrictions on the right of
assembly. For example, the march
organized by the Partido Radical Liberal Auténtico in downtown Asunción on
Saturday, February 3, 1990, was banned. The
authorities said that ban was based on a ministry rule restricting
demonstrations in some parts of the Asunción downtown area.
According to those taking part in the march, the reason for the ban was
to prevent interference with business activities, which was not applicable
because the march was being held on a holiday.
The Commission feels that this type of regulation should take into
consideration that freedom of assembly and of expression are the highest
priority in the system of democratic freedoms, and only considerations of
extreme urgency justify restraints on it. Accordingly,
the Commission believes that it should be the parliament that regulates freedom
The Right of
Regarding freedom of expression in the mass media, the Commission has found directly and through the statements of representatives of various social sectors, including publishers and reporters that there are not restrictions imposed by the authorities and that the authorities have given broad guarantees for the free operation of all organs of expression, including opposition and other organs that were shut down or obstructed in the Stroessner period.
Commission has likewise found that the political parties enjoy broad freedom of
action. In that regard, it was
informed of the government’s initiative to draw up, with the assistance of
international technical institutions, a draft (which is the basis of the present
law) Electoral Code and Law of Political Parties, which was extensively debated
by the public, the political parties and the parliament.
Human rights and the
Commission has also considered in previous reports and cases the status of human
rights in the Indian communities. There
are approximately 50,000 Indians in some 200 tribes in Paraguay.
There is a law that is progressively worded–law 904/81, Statute of the
Indian Communities, Article 1 of which reads as follows:
The purpose of this act is to ensure the social and cultural preservation of the Indian communities, defend their heritage and traditions, improve their economic conditions, their effective participation in the country’s development, and their access to a legal system that guarantees them the right to own land and other productive resources on an equal footing with other citizens.
law established the National Indian Institute (INDI).
Commission received complaints about human rights violations in Indian
communities regarding their right to own property and to live on their ancestral
lands, to protection under the law
from plundering of forests in the areas they live in or own, the settlement of
outside campesinos on disputed land with the aim of diminishing the
community’s rights and their right to preserve their religion and beliefs.
Paraguayan Episcopal Conference, through its National Team of Missions, points
out in a report to the Commission the following, among other points:
While there is a Statute of Indian Communities, Law 904/81, no
regulations have been issued to implement it, and it has been notoriously
difficult to have recourse to in court suits.
The judiciary ignores it, and its potential benefits come to nothing.
The efforts of the INDI (National Indian Institute) are concentrated in
the catchment area of the Caazapa Rural Development Project, and are confined to
the strict enforcement of law 1372, which allocates land for Indian settlements
in that area.
Since its establishment in 1981, the INDI has brought no legal action to
defend the rights of any Indian community, except for an action to evict
campesino squatters from land in Fortuna, Curuguaty.
Since its establishment, the INDI has not initiated nor even supported
efforts to expropriate land for Indian communities.
complaints received during the Commission’s visit describe in detail the
alleged harassment and deprivation of land and violation of rights in a number
of communities, including the Moya in Carumbe, the Aché in Ypetimi, the
communities living in Ycua Porá, Campo Azul, Abai, and the Tekoha Guasu Yukeri.
Government indicates, through the National Indian Institute, that starting
February 1989 and “under the institute’s policy, some of the most important
steps taken have been the following:
The resolution banning the sale and marketing of alcoholic beverages in
the communities …
The requirement that private entities conducting Indian affairs
activities submit detailed annual reports …
Reactivation of the Association of Indian communities (Asociación de
Parcialidades Indígenas – API), whose membership includes leaders of all the
Indian communities in the country … The
INDI funds a hospital in the API (Asunción) and covers the expenses of its
General Assembly …
It has acquired with funds of the Caazapá Integrated Rural Development
Project (World Bank loan) the following land:
Ypetimi, Cantina Cué, 1,500 hectares; Ranchito-Ypeti, 1,500 hectares; Yñaro-Arroyo
Caa, 1,400 hectares, and five other small properties.
It has helped settle three groups: the Ayoreo, in Santo Domingo; the
Puetecita Community in Celeste, Alto Paraná; and the Arazapety in San Pedro de
It has provided medical care to several localities and provides medical
care on an ongoing basis at its own facilities.
Ministry of Education has informed the Commission that there are 109 schools for
Indian population, with 5,345 graduates. Most
of the teachers in these schools are of Indian origin.
Commission proposes to continue to review of the complaints submitted and of the
developments in those cases, and trusts that the growing representativeness of
Indian organizations and the attention the government is giving to their
complaints will enable those communities–which are in irreplaceable part of
the Paraguayan nation–to enjoy their rights fully, settle finally in peace,
and be able to make a contribution to the life of the nation with their culture
and their efforts.
An opinion illustrating the problem is the statement of the Police
Chief of the Encarnación Police station, Itapua, who explained in an
interview with a delegation of union leaders, members of congress and
reporters that “in the mountains, it is very hard to control the 20
officers I take with me on a raid.
The campesinos attack our men by firing pellets and crossbows and
all sincerity, our procedures are far different from those of the Joint Task
Force (composed of military and police forces), who go in and really club
the people, break ribs and heads, and arrest landless peasants.
We haven’t beaten up people like that.”
(February 8, 1990).