Doc. 10
18 September 1989
Original:  Spanish




          In the period immediately following the Commission's Annual Report of September 1988, the pattern of systematic and gross violations of human rights continued in Paraguay. These violations included, among others, the restrictions on, and violations of, the right to life and personal liberty and to property, as well as political rights and free speech, which marked the widespread arbitrariness of the regime headed by General Stroessner. On February 2 and 3, 1989, in a climate of growing pressure and open malaise in public opinion and various social sectors—especially political parties, including segments of the governing Colorado party, the Church, urban trade unions and peasant organizations—a military insurrection toppled President Alfredo Stroessner. On being sworn in as the new President, the hitherto Acting Commander of the First Army Corps, General Andrés Rodríguez, vowed to respect the Constitution and said the following:


         I pledge myself personally to defend our institutions, with energy where necessary, but always within the law and with respect for the human rights of others… For human rights to become a reality rather than a mere wish, there must be, as I see it, authentic democracy—not one that is mere veneer or a legal formality—with a strong and independent judiciary, with respect for the right to voice opinions, to assembly peaceably, so that each Paraguayan may be afforded equal opportunity, without privileges of any kind.


          This Commission's report on the status of human rights in Paraguay, issued in 1987 and updated in 1988, details the human rights violations that were carried out under the structure and political practices of the government and its legal system. They amounted to a system of nearly absolute concentration of power in the hands of the Executive and the ruling party, which not only controlled the other branches of government directly, but exacted mandatory political adherence from members of the armed forces and other public officials. Human rights violations perpetrated under this control made it possible to systematically suppress the opposition as well as the activity of any individual or group, at the discretion of the rulers. Such practices continued until the government was deposed; the new government has not only expressed its intention and will to correct them, but has also begun to tape specific steps in that direction.


          The de facto government born of the rebellion decided to follow, as the path towards institutional legitimacy, the provisions laid down by the Constitution for resignation or vacancy of the Executive, that is to say, to call elections within ninety days of such vacancy. All political parties were able to participate in these elections with fairly broad freedom of action. After engaging in internal debates as to the legitimacy of the call to elections and the conditions surrounding the vote, the traditional parties agreed to take part in the elections. A broad measure of freedom was allowed for political activity, assembly, speech and access to the media. Those parties hitherto unrecognized that applied for political registration were officially acknowledged. Sanctions against banned media were lifted and no obstacles were raised to the establishment of new media representing miscellaneous opposition movements. In addition, through the official media, the government provided free broadcast for the various political parties.


          The conditions surrounding that election were criticized, however, because the lists of registered voters were not revised, because insufficient time was given to reorganize the membership of political parties persecuted for many years by the previous regime, and because no changes were made in the Electoral Board, whose members had been appointed during the government of President Stroessner and were accused of having favored him in the past. It should be noted, nevertheless, that despite these conditions and various irregularities in the course of the election itself, the Colorado Party won the election by margins similar to those in public opinion polls taken by national and international agencies before the election.


          In earlier reports, the Commission noted that the democratic principles established in the American Declaration, as well as those found in the 1967 Paraguayan Constitution itself, are inconsistent with the proportional system established by Law Nº 886 on the Electoral Statute, which gives to the party with the first majority, under the system of complete lists, a third of the senators, representatives, constitutional delegates, members of municipal boards and electoral boards. This gives the party with the most votes virtually absolute power over legislative decisions, including those involving control over other branches of government and those for which, owing to their importance, the Constitution requires special majorities. This same imbalance prevails at the municipal level and with respect to the organization and running of the electoral process.


          The new government, through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, undertook to promote a constitutional reform barring reelection of the President, establishing a Vice Presidency, and setting up an independent electoral court. At present, the National Congress is working on the Constitution, the Electoral and Municipal Laws, with a view to strengthening the country's democratic institutions. In the view of the Commission, the need for this reform is particularly urgent because municipal elections will be held throughout the country in late 1990. It may be noted that municipal mayors all over Paraguay were heretofore appointed directly by the Executive, without any voting by the people, as would be the case in a democratic society.


          Under the Paraguayan legal system, the effectiveness of the rights recognized by the Constitution is limited by three types of instruments: the state of siege declaration provided for in Article 79 of the Constitution, which grants virtually absolute and uncontrolled powers to the Executive, and laws Nº 294 of 1955, known as the “Law in Defense of Democracy” and Nº 209 of 1970, known as the “Law in Defense of Public Peace and Personal Liberty,” which set up mechanisms curtailing civil liberties and legal freedoms, established special jurisdictions for certain kinds of offenses, and vested broad discretion in the government to define punishable offenses and engage in investigative and repressive practices.


          It bears noting with satisfaction that the present government, by law Nº 1 of this year and in line with pre-electoral promises, has ratified without reservations the American Convention on Human Rights, which ratification was deposited with the General Secretariat of the OAS on August 24 last. In addition, in keeping with a petition from the Executive Branch, Congress has repealed the above-mentioned laws Nº 294/55 and Nº 209/70 and has reinstated the relevant articles of the 1914 Criminal Code.


          Furthermore, the new government is trying to achieve a genuine independence of the judiciary, which was virtually inexistent under the previous regime. This is reflected in the appointment of prominent persons from different backgrounds to fill vacancies or to replace judges who resigned when the previous government fell. Thus, for instance, the legal scholar and university professor Dr. Jerónimo Irala Burgos, former head of the Christian Democrats, was appointed to the Supreme Court. The problem, however, runs deeper, because the Constitution provides for judges to remain five years in office, thereby enabling the Executive to control de judiciary and negate its independence. The Executive not only appoints judges with the consent of the Senate, of which two third are members of the ruling party, but may, in addition, terminate their appointments every five years by simple omitting their names from the list of proposed appointments.


          As for freedom of expression, the new government has also been keeping its promise to defend it. Before a meeting of the Inter-American Press Association held in Asuncion, the President indicated that “… we have begun the battle for freedom. Freedom of expression and freedom of speech include the right not to be victimized for voicing opinions, without restrictions and through any medium.” To illustrate the difficulties posed by this effort, ANTELCO (the National Telecommunications Administration) published, at about the same time, a list of 30 journalists barred from radio or television. This measure was later cancelled.


          Soon after the new government took over, restrictions were lifted from Radio Ñanduti, which had been suspended since 1986, from the weekly El Pueblo, banned in 1987, the ABC Color weekly shut down in March 1984, and Radio Caritas, which had been prohibited from broadcasting beyond the capital. These kinds of violations, however, are still being attempted, even though they are less and less frequent, as illustrated by the case of the prohibition to stage the play “The Courts of San Fernando” by Alcibiades González Delvalle.


          One of the most oppressive features of the government of General Stroessner, a practice which is not even engaged in by other contemporary dictatorships, was the general practice of demanding compulsory membership in the governing Colorado Party from all public employees and officials, even members of the armed forces, semi-official companies, etc., down to the humblest jobs of teachers and other public servants in the interior of the country. This practice included the automatic withholding from the salaries of these employees of a contribution to the Colorado Party. This practice, in the view of the Commission, is a violation of the rights to free speech, to work and to property, as well as of political rights, and raises a severe obstacle to the operation of a democratic system. Promises of equality made by the President, and other more specific promises concerning the forthcoming repeal of this practice, lead the Commission to hope that the government will take the necessary steps to eradicate it completely and immediately.


          Intimately linked with the status of human rights in Paraguay are developments connected with the ownership of land. Article 128 of the Constitution of Paraguay looks upon agrarian reform as essential to bringing peasants into the nation's social and economic development process, and promises the adoption of a fair system of land distribution, ownership and possession; Article 129 further indicated that large landed estates are to be progressively taken apart. Law 622 of 1960, in turn, recognizes de facto settlements and grants title if the owners fail to file a claim in 20 years. Laws 852 and 854 of 1963 established the Rural Welfare Institute (WRI) and a New Agrarian Statute was enacted, granting rights to peasants who are bona fide and peaceful occupants of lands and providing guidelines for the expropriation of lands in large estates that are not being rationally worked, as well as lands occupied de facto for less than 20 years, if required to settle social problems. The law also established a system of mandatory mediation through the RWI prior to any rural eviction.


          Despite this legislation, earlier reports by this Commission and by various human rights organizations noted that the law was virtually dead letter during the regime of General Stroessner, showing a persistent pattern of violations of human rights in response to attempts by peasants to place themselves under the protection of the above laws and claim the rights granted to them. Such reported violations include murders, dispossession, arrest, torture and harassment of peasants by security forces and the court system. The Commission has received reports of incidents occurring immediately after the change in government and in the months that followed, according to which not only has there been no compliance with the above laws, but, in addition, the outrages committed have claimed the life, personal safety and freedom of individuals.


          The Commission wishes to draw attention to President Rodríguez's specific statement that: “The proclamation of February 2 and 3 includes a national political platform. In it, we undertake to respect human rights. We understand that in an agricultural country, land ownership is one of the most legitimate human rights. There is enough land in the country to satisfy the rural population's demand to work its own land.” In elaborating on these remarks, he promised to revamp current legislation so as to provide swift solutions to that demand and strengthen the technical capabilities of land reform agencies. In addition, he summoned all political parties to a meeting at which he confirmed his intention to address the matter at once and set specific goals for his administration in this area. In this connection, initial steps have been implemented in recent weeks.


          In previous reports the Commission made known its concern regarding trade union rights and the duty of the government to accept and promote free trade unions. In the past, harassment and repression were directed against leaders of independent groups, as a result of which government data for 1988 show a trade union membership totaling only 11,418 persons, which is less than 1% of a labor force numbering approximately 1.5 million workers. Beginning on February 3, new trade unions have been set up and the government has officially recognized the Unified Federation of Workers, the National Confederation of Workers, and the Inter-Union Workers' Movement, while permitting the operation of all trade unions that have applied for authorization. As to the rights of indigenous populations, it may be noted that the President, in his inaugural speech, said that the situation of indigenous communities in Paraguay is critical, and added the following: “My government will draw up a national assistance plan capable of being carried out without affecting our harmonious co-existence with our Indian population. This plan will seek to promote respect for their ethnic identity and will eradicate all discrimination. Indian communities need land, jobs and medical and educational aid.” To these ends, the President called for active participation by the leaders of the communities themselves. The Commission applauds these plans affecting such an important segment of the population of Paraguay and hopes to see evidence of their results in the near future.


          Also noteworthy in light of the harassment suffered by the Catholic Church under the previous regime, is the position of the government on this subject. General Rodríguez, in the same speech, reaffirmed his “commitment to guarantee our church the free exercise of its sacred mission” and conveyed to it, on behalf of the government and the people of Paraguay, his gratitude for its courageous and tireless defense of human rights,” which gratitude, he indicated, “is shared by its comrades in Paraguay's glorious armed forces.”


          When the previous government fell, the new authorities, faced with concrete accusations against members of the security forces involved in torture, responded by launching investigations and publicly dismantling torture centers such as those in Alto Parana. These court proceedings confirm, in principle, the announcement made by the new Minister of the Interior that all those responsible for torture under the regime of President Stroessner will be punished. The Office of the Attorney General has started investigations in this area and several institutions and individuals have filed lawsuits against individuals allegedly responsible for torture, including former civilian, police and military officials. It is the hope of the Commission that the government's intent and the growing independence of the judiciary will make it possible to punish all those responsible for this execrable aspect of General Stroessner's regime.


          The Commission is still receiving reports of sporadic cases of torture and abuses by security personnel. The most noteworthy case is that of a demonstration by peasants, that was set upon with dogs in front of the metropolitan cathedral. This led to broad condemnation from various institutions and even from members of the police itself.


          The Commission feels, in this regard, that inasmuch as the practice of  torture and mistreatment is a longstanding one and is probably ingrained in the usage and habits of some members of the security forces as part of their work, a systematic educational program should be carried out to make them understand not only the unacceptable nature of these basic human rights violations but also the adverse effect they have on social tranquility, on the general welfare and even on the public respect and cooperation that such forces need to rely on in order to fulfill the role assigned to them by society.


          The present judiciary has shown its readiness to enforce national legislation and international obligations in cases involving repatriation, to their legitimate families, of children who were victims of the repression in Argentina during the past military government, children whose adoptive parents had settled in Paraguay. The Commission expects the same juridical efficacy in dealing with cases of extradition of persons wanted by countries with extradition treaties with Paraguay.


          Likewise, the Executive authorized the return to Paraguay of Spanish Catholic working priests who are members of the Education and Social Support Service [Servicio de Educación y Apoyo Social (SEAS)] who had been expelled on charges of carrying out subversive activities.


          In sum, the Commission remarks that the new government has acknowledged and undertake to correct the systematic violation of democratic principles and human rights embedded in the legal and institutional structure of the previous regime. Specific measures have been put into practice, even if such efforts are sometimes hampered by measures which, though exceptional, detract from the overall effort.


          Specific priorities, which, the Commission trusts, will enable the new government to better fulfill its promises and consolidate its true democratic character are:


          -          prompt amendment of the Electoral Law so as to secure democratic government representation;


          -          a constitutional reform that will strengthen those principles and the independence of the judiciary while reducing the unrestrained power of the Executive;


          -          the repeal of mandatory membership in the Colorado Party by civilian and military personnel; and


          -          The active suppression of any practice contrary to the law and to human rights, especially among the rural and indigenous populations.


          After delays since 1978 by the regime of General Stroessner to accept the visit of the Commission, the new Government has readily agreed to it, which is expected to be done in February, 1990. The Commission expects to confirm then the complete respect for human rights, serious advances in said constitutional and legal reforms, as well as full eradication of the practice of forced political allegiance.


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