Last Updated: Thursday, 27 November 2014, 08:31 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Paraguay

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1998
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Paraguay, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1c10.html [accessed 27 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.

PARAGUAY

Paraguay is a constitutional republic with a strong executive branch and an increasingly important bicameral legislature. The President is the head of government and cannot succeed himself. In 1993 Juan Carlos Wasmosy became the country's first freely elected civilian president. (Authoritarian regimes had ruled the country until 1989, when dictator Alfredo Stroessner was overthrown by General Andres Rodriguez, who was elected president later that year.) There are three major political parties and a number of smaller ones. The opposition's power has increased as a result of the changes brought about by the 1992 Constitution and the subsequent election of a civilian president and an opposition-controlled congress. President Wasmosy has worked to consolidate the nation's democratic transition. In April 1996 he resisted an attempted coup by then-army commander General Lino Oviedo. Subsequently, however, Oviedo won the Colorado Party presidential primary and became a potential contender in the May 1998 presidential elections. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Supreme Court continued its process of reform.

The military no longer plays an overt political role, but rumors of coup-plotting persisted during the year. The national police force, under the overall authority of the Ministry of the Interior, has responsibility for maintaining internal security and public order. The civilian authorities maintain effective control of the security forces. The police committed some human rights abuses.

Paraguay has a market economy with a large informal sector. The formal economy is oriented towards services, with less than half of the $8 billion gross domestic product resulting from agriculture and industry. Over 40 percent of the population is engaged in agricultural activity. Wealth continues to be concentrated, with both urban and rural areas supporting a large subsistence sector. Agricultural commodities (soybeans, cotton, lumber, and cattle) were the most important export items. The economy grew approximately 2 percent in 1997, a growth rate roughly equal to 1996. Annual per capita income is approximately $1,600.

The Government's human rights record improved somewhat, but serious problems remain in certain areas. Principal human rights problems included allegations of extrajudicial killings, torture and mistreatment of criminal suspects and prisoners, poor prison conditions, arbitrary arrest, detention of suspects without judicial orders, lengthy pretrial detention, general weaknesses within the judiciary, infringements on citizens' privacy, and firings of labor organizers. Discrimination against women, the disabled, and indigenous people and violence against women and abuse of children are also problems. The Government continued its efforts to convict and punish those who committed human rights abuses during the Stroessner era.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of politically motivated killings in 1997. However, there were allegations that members of the National Police committed extrajudicial killings. One incident involved the July murder of two Peruvian citizens, allegedly by a group of police officers. The police, who were purportedly providing protection for the Peruvians (who were involved in illicit activities), allegedly killed the Peruvians when they failed to make a weekly payment of $250. Local newspapers later reported that the police did not pursue internal investigations, transferred agents suspected of being involved rather than prosecuting them, and pressured the Attorney General's office to drop its investigation. The National Police denied any involvement in the killings. At year's end, police records indicated that there still had been no internal investigation of the matter, and no one was charged in the criminal investigation.

Police were also involved in the shooting death of a student, Gustavo Daniel Gonzalez Delgado. Human rights monitors claim that Gonzalez was shot three times, after police opened fire on his car, following a traffic incident between Gonzalez's car and a police vehicle. Gonzalez's parents declined to bring charges against the police. Police sources indicated that an internal investigation was under way, but that there was little interest in pursuing it diligently.

There were numerous allegations of mistreatment of military recruits by noncommissioned and commissioned officers, and at least two conscripts died in unclear circumstances. Both deaths were officially attributed to meningitis, but families of both youths claimed that the bodies showed evidence of beating and torture.

Although a court sentenced police officer Teofilo Sanabria to jail for the November 1996 fatal shooting of Colorado Party activist Raul Bittar during a fracas between Colorado and Liberal Party members, he was released from prison after 3 months. An appellate court ruled that the shooting had been accidental.

There were no developments in the investigations into the 1995 killing of peasant protester Pedro Jimenez or the 1994 killings of peasant leaders Sebastian Larrosa and Esteban Balbuena.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture, as well as cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment; however, torture (primarily beatings) and brutal and degrading treatment of convicted prisoners and other detainees continued. A human rights group, the Committee of Churches, reported several cases of torture and other abusive treatment of persons, including women and children, designed to extract confessions, punish escape attempts, or intimidate detainees.

The United Nations Committee on Torture criticized Paraguay in May for continued mistreatment and torture of prisoners and detainees by police. After President Wasmosy publicly stated that he would make inquiries into the matter, the then-chief of police (who later resigned following continuing allegations of corruption) admitted that torture and mistreatment of prisoners existed but asserted that it was sporadic and not normally done in our institution.

The Attorney General's office and the Committee of Churches compiled examples of numerous incidents of police abuse and extrajudicial killings. Mistreatment of conscripts was also a problem; several died under unclear circumstances (see Section l.a.).

On May 8, the authorities arrested retired General Ramon Duarte Vega, former Stroessner-era police chief, and charged him with crimes against humanity for the torture of Captain Napoleon Ortigaza and Hilario Ortella in 1963.

Credible reports continued that landowners, many of them Brazilians living near the border in the Alto Parana, Canindeyu, and Amambay departments, forcibly removed squatters from their property. Some of the evictions reportedly were violent. The authorities undertook no effective action in response to these reports. In at least one case, a peasant was killed, but police refused to act, stating that the caretaker thought that the victim was stealing sheep.

Prison conditions are extremely poor. Overcrowding and unsanitary living conditions were the most serious problems affecting all prisoners. Mistreatment of prisoners is also a serious problem. Tacumbu prison, the largest in Asuncion, was built to hold 800 inmates but currently houses over 1,400. Other regional prisons generally hold about three times more inmates than originally planned. Security is another problem; for example, there are only 30 guards to supervise over 600 inmates in the Alto Parana prison. The Congressional Commission for Human Rights also criticized the poor nutritional standards in the prisons. Prisons generally serve one meal a day and prisoners seldom get vegetables, fruit, or a meat protein source, unless they have individual means to purchase them. At the prison in Encarnacion there is one latrine for 280 detainees. Prisons have separate accommodations for well-to-do prisoners, ensuring that those with sufficient means endure far fewer inconveniences than other prisoners.

The Government permits independent monitoring of prison conditions by interested human rights organizations.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Arbitrary arrest and detention are problems. The Constitution prohibits detention without an arrest warrant signed by a judge and stipulates that any person arrested must appear before a judge within 48 hours to make a statement. The police can arrest persons without a warrant if they catch them in the act of committing a crime, but must bring them before a judge within 24 hours. According to human rights activists, however, the authorities often violated these provisions.

More than 95 percent of the country's 3,717 prisoners are being held pending trial, many for months or years after their arrest. Of the 600 inmates in Alto Parana prison, for example, only 18 have been sentenced. While the law encourages speedy trials, the Constitution permits detention without trial until the accused completes the minimum sentence for the alleged crime, which often occurs in practice. A bail system exists for most crimes, and judges have discretion over it. Judges frequently set relatively high bail, and many accused persons are unable to post bond. In 1996 the Supreme Court, the Public Ministry, and a judicial working group took steps to reduce the large number of pretrial detainees but achieved only modest results. The Supreme Court and many criminal court judges also make quarterly visits to the prisons to identify and release improperly held individuals.

The Constitution expressly prohibits employing exile as a punishment.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Although relatively inefficient, the judiciary is independent in practice.

The nine-member Supreme Court appoints lower court judges and magistrates, based upon recommendations by the Magistrate's Council. There are five types of appellate tribunals: Civil and commercial, criminal, labor, administrative disputes, and juvenile. Several minor courts and justices of the peace fall within these five functional areas. The judicial system remains relatively inefficient, due to outdated penal and criminal procedure codes, insufficient resources, and delays as new judicial officials learn their tasks. The military has its own judicial system.

The 1992 Constitution stipulates that all defendants have the right to an attorney, at public expense if necessary, but this right often is not respected in practice. Many destitute suspects receive little legal assistance, and few have access to an attorney sufficiently in advance of the trial to prepare a defense. In Asuncion, for example, there are only 13 public defenders available to assist the indigent. Moreover, the public defenders lack the resources to perform their jobs adequately.

Trials are conducted almost exclusively by presentation of written documents to a judge who then renders a decision. A Public Ministry official is responsible in most cases for bringing charges against accused persons. Defendants and the Public Ministry can present written testimony of witnesses as well as evidence. All interested parties have access to all documents reviewed by the judge, and defendants can rebut witnesses. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. The judge alone determines guilt or innocence and decides punishment. During the pretrial phase, the judge receives and may request investigative reports. In this phase, the judge is also likely to make a personal inspection of the scene of the crime and of the available physical evidence. The accused often appears before the court only twice: to plead and to be sentenced. An appellate judge automatically reviews all verdicts, and the law provides for appeals to the Supreme Court.

A separate documentation center and repository holds the government archives discovered in December 1992, which document various human rights abuses and implicate many former government officials of the Stroessner regime. In 1996 an appellate court affirmed the convictions for human rights abuses of five Stroessner-era officials (former police investigations director Pastor Coronel and police officers Lucilo Benitez Santacruz, Agustin Bellotto Vouga, Camilo Almada Morel, and Juan Aniceto Martinez). In July the courts also found Pastor Coronel and his colleagues guilty of the attempted murder, by torture, of Miguel Angel Soler, leader of the Paraguayan Communist Party in the 1970's (Angel Soler's body was never found). The authorities also brought additional cases against former police chief Ramon Duarte Vera (see Section 1.c.). In one case, human rights activist Dr. Joel Filartiga has accused Duarte Vera of personally torturing him after his arrests in 1957 and 1966. These and other cases were still underway at year's end.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

While the Government and its security forces generally did not interfere in the private lives of citizens, human rights activists claim that local officials and police officers abuse their authority by entering homes or businesses without warrants and harassing private citizens. The Constitution provides that police may not enter private homes except to prevent a crime in progress or when the police possess a judicial warrant. There were allegations that the Government occasionally spied on individuals and monitored communications for political and security reasons. There also were credible allegations that some government agencies required or pressured their employees to join or campaign on behalf of the ruling Colorado Party.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of expression and the press, and the Government respects these rights in practice. The public and the press exercised these rights freely.

The print and electronic media are independently owned. The media commonly criticized the Government and freely discussed opposition viewpoints. Based on information and a tape recording made by an informant, police arrested a former mayor of Ciudad del Este for contracting the murder of a journalist in that city. The Paraguayan Union of Journalists demanded from authorities greater protection for two journalists who received death threats while investigating drug trafficking in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero. The journalists union also asked that the authorities reinvigorate their investigation into the 1991 murder of journalist and radio station owner Santiago Leguizamon in Pedro Juan Caballero.

The Government does not restrict academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right of all citizens to peaceful assembly, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government passed amendments to a law regulating demonstrations in Asuncion that further restricted areas where demonstrations may take place, but expanded, slightly, the hours in which they may be held. Union groups were the most vocal opponents of the modifications. The law requires that organizers notify the Asuncion police 24 hours before any rally in the downtown area. The police may ban a protest but must provide written notification of such a ban within 12 hours of receipt of the organizers' request. The law permits a police ban only if a third party has already given notice of plans for a similar rally at the same place and time. In addition, the law prohibits public meetings or demonstrations in front of the presidential palace and outside military or police barracks. The law does not apply to religious processions.

Political and social demonstrations and rallies occurred without major incidents. Government and peasant organization leaders were able to negotiate a peaceful conclusion to a March 15-16 peasant procession, where violence had been forecast. The authorities allowed the peasants to march to the presidential palace and provided financial assistance to help them return to their homes.

The Constitution provides for the right of all citizens to free association, and the Government respects this right in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of conscience for all persons and recognizes no official religion; the Government respects this freedom in practice. Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion, but all denominations are free to worship as they choose. Adherence to a particular creed confers no legal advantage or disadvantage, and foreign and local missionaries proselytize freely. All religious groups must be registered with the Ministry of Education and Worship, but the Government imposes no controls on these groups.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

All citizens may travel freely within the country with virtually no restrictions, and there are no restrictions on foreign travel or emigration.

The Government cooperates with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. There are no established provisions to grant asylum or refugee status; the Immigration Department determines each request on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the Ministries of Foreign Relations and the Interior and the Committee of Churches (a nongovernmental organization--NGO) that investigates claims to refugee status). The issue of the provision of first asylum has never arisen. There were no reports of the forced return of persons to countries where they feared persecution.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens have the right and ability to change their government through democratic means. Multiple parties and candidates contest the nation's leadership positions. Four parties are represented in the Congress. The Constitution and the Electoral Code mandate general elections every 5 years, voting by secret ballot, and universal suffrage. The executive and legislative branches govern the country; opposition political parties control the Congress. Debate is free and frank. The Congress often rejects important government proposals and overrides presidential vetoes.

The Government survived a test in April 1996, when then-army commander General Lino Oviedo defied a presidential order to resign and attempted to remove President Wasmosy. Strong public reaction and prompt international condemnation convinced him to back down. After retiring from the military, Oviedo entered politics. Although the Supreme Electoral Tribunal declared Oviedo the winner of the Colorado Party presidential primary, the party had not registered him as its official candidate by year's end. Oviedo was subjected to 30 days' detention for violating military discipline, and to a further indefinite detention, pursuant to a military court order, as a moral author or suspected accomplice in the April 1996 coup attempt. Primary elections held in September for all political parties were generally well run, although some factions contested the results in the Colorado Party primaries.

Vestiges remain, however, of the Stroessner-era merging of the State, the armed forces, and the Colorado Party. The press has reported the use of state resources, particularly vehicles, to support party political rallies. There were also credible reports of government officials requiring public employees to attend Colorado Party functions and contribute funds to the party.

There are no legal impediments to women seeking to participate in government and politics. In 1993 voters elected 5 women to Congress (3 of 45 senators, 1 of whom died in October 1996, and 2 of 80 national deputies), and there is 1 woman, the Secretary for Women's Affairs, in the Cabinet. The new Electoral Code requires that, in their internal primaries, 20 percent of each party's candidates for elective office be women. Women are well-represented in the judicial system as judges and prosecutors.

Members of indigenous groups are entitled to vote, and the percentage of indigenous people who exercised this right has grown dramatically in recent years. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of some indigenous communities report being threatened and inhibited from fully exercising their political rights.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Several human rights groups operate, including the Committee of Churches (an interdenominational group that monitors human rights and provides legal assistance), Prodemos (a group linked to the Catholic Church), Tekojoja (a group dedicated to protection of children's rights), SERPAJ (a group that defends conscientious objectors), and the local chapter of the Association of Latin American Lawyers for the Defense of Human Rights. The Government did not restrict the activities of any human rights group.

The Director General of Human Rights, located in the Ministry of Justice and Labor, chairs the National Commission on Human Rights, which made little progress in its work to prepared a national plan on human rights. The commission also sponsors seminars to promote human rights awareness. The director general's office has access to congressional, executive, and judicial authorities. It does not have subpoena or prosecutorial powers, but may forward information concerning human rights abuses to the Attorney General for action. It also serves as a clearinghouse for information on human rights and has trained thousands of educators in human rights law.

The Attorney General has a special adviser on human rights who has been extremely active in pursuing justice against human rights abusers from the Stroessner regime. Although the position has little real authority, the adviser is an ardent spokesman for the human rights community and the rights of the disenfranchised and uses his position to identify and publicize human rights abuses by the Government.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Although the Constitution and other laws prohibit discrimination, certain groups faced significant discrimination in practice.

Women

Spousal abuse is common. Thousands of women are treated annually for injuries sustained in violent domestic situations. According to women's rights activists, official complaints are rarely filed, or when filed are soon withdrawn due to spousal reconciliation or family pressure. The Secretariat of Women's Affairs chairs a national committee, made up of other government agencies and NGO's, which has developed a national plan to prevent and punish violence against women. Pursuant to the plan, an office of care and orientation receives reports on violence against women and coordinates responses with the National Police, primary health care units, the Attorney General's office, and NGO's. The Secretariat also conducts training courses for the police, health care workers, prosecutors, and others.

Violence against women has been targeted as a key area of concern by several NGO's and the Women's Secretariat. According to information from the Center for Studies and Documentation, there were 116 case of rape and attempted raped between March 1992 and May 1993 (latest data available). Under the Criminal Code, a rapist may be exonerated of the crime, if he agrees to marry the victim and the victim accepts. Women's rights and advocacy groups succeeded in widening the debate about violence against women. In 1987 the 25th of November Women's Collective opened a shelter for battered and abused women, where they can seek medical and legal assistance.

The law prohibits trafficking and sexual exploitation of women, but the authorities do not enforce it effectively. Exploitation of women, especially teenage prostitutes, remains a serious problem. Law enforcement officials regularly stage raids on houses of prostitution, and there were cases of arrests and closures of brothels where minors were involved in prostitution.

The Secretary for Women's Affairs continued to sponsor programs intended to enable women to have free and equal access to employment, social security, housing, ownership of land, and business opportunities. However, sex-related job discrimination continues to be common and widely tolerated. Claiming that a majority of women in the workplace face sexual harassment, several unions and NGO's sponsored an anti-sexual harassment campaign. The campaign was prompted in part by the plight of two women who sued their employer for sexual harassment, lost their suit, and were then held criminally liable for defamation and injury.

Several groups work to improve conditions for women. One is Women for Democracy, which is active in civic and electoral education. Other groups include Sumando, an NGO promoting educational reform policy and voter participation in elections; SEFEM, which highlights such issues as women and public policy, women and social policy, participation of women in local development, and women in the Americas; and the Women's November 25th Collective, which sponsors a home for battered women and helps coordinate legal assistance. These groups are effective advocates for change.

Children

The Constitution protects certain children's rights, and stipulates that parents and the State should care for, feed, educate, and support children. Boys and girls are entitled to equal treatment in education and health care. Elementary school education is compulsory.

Abuse of children is a problem. Although no census has been taken, experts in the Public Ministry report that approximately 26,000 children work in urban areas as street vendors or as prostitutes. The majority of these children suffer from malnutrition, lack of access to education, and disease. The employers of some young girls working as domestic servants or nannies deny them access to education and mistreat them. Employers sometimes falsely charge those who seek to leave domestic jobs with robbery and turn them over to the police. According to the Attorney General's office, there are approximately 200 complaints per month regarding mistreatment and sexual abuse of minors. The Government has taken effective steps to combat the problem of baby trafficking and in 1995 enacted a moratorium on international adoptions.

President Wasmosy and the armed forces Chief of Staff have ordered all officers responsible for recruiting to ensure that all conscripts meet the Constitutionally mandated minimum age of 17 years for military service. There were several reported violations, including allegations of military recruiters forcing underage recruits to join units. The military took no significant disciplinary action against those responsible for underage recruits. Human rights groups and some military personnel allege that poor families knowingly send underage children to the armed forces for the economic benefits.

People With Disabilities

The Constitution provides for equal opportunity for people with disabilities and mandates that the State provide them with health care, education, recreation, and professional training. It further requires that the State formulate a policy for the treatment, rehabilitation, and integration into society of people with disabilities. However, the Congress has never enacted legislation to establish such programs. Many people with disabilities face significant discrimination in employment; others are unable to seek employment because of a lack of accessible public transportation. The law does not mandate accessibility for the disabled, and the vast majority of the nation's buildings, both public and private, are inaccessible to people with disabilities.

Indigenous People

The Constitution provides indigenous people with the right to participate in the economic, social, political, and cultural life of the nation. Nevertheless, the indigenous population, estimated at 75,000 to 100,000, is unassimilated and neglected. Weak organization and lack of financial resources limit access by indigenous people to the political and economic system. Indigenous groups relied primarily upon parliamentary commissions to promote their particular interests. The Constitution also protects the property interests of indigenous people, but these rights still are not codified fully. The Constitution provides that Public Ministry officials may represent indigenous people in matters involving the protection of life and property.

The Government's National Indigenous Institute (INDI) has the authority to purchase land on behalf of indigenous communities and to expropriate private property under certain conditions to establish tribal homelands. There have been significant allegations of wrongdoing within INDI, however, and in November a Congressional Human Rights Committee requested an accounting of INDI's land purchases and transfers. Many indigenous people find it difficult to travel to the capital to solicit land titles or process the required documentation associated with land ownership.

The main problems facing the indigenous population are lack of education, malnutrition, lack of medical care, and economic displacement resulting from other groups' development and modernization. Scarce resources and limited government attention resulted in little progress in dealing with these problems.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution allows both private and public sector workers (with the exception of the armed forces and the police) to form and join unions without government interference. The Constitution contains several provisions that protect fundamental worker rights, including an antidiscrimination clause, provisions for employment tenure, severance pay for unjustified firings, collective bargaining, and the right to strike. Approximately 10 percent (150,000) of workers are organized.

In general, unions are independent of the Government and political parties. One of the nation's three labor centrals, the Confederation of Paraguayan Workers (CPT), was traditionally aligned closely with the ruling Colorado Party, but these ties appear to be loosening.

All unions must be registered with the Ministry of Justice and Labor. The registration process is cumbersome and can take several months. Employers who wish to oppose the formation of a union can further delay union recognition by filing a writ opposing it. However, virtually all unions that request recognition eventually receive it. In 1996 the Government recognized a total of 1,318 unions, including both private and public sector organizations. The Constitution provides for the right to strike, bans binding arbitration, and prohibits retribution against strikers and leaders carrying out routine union business, a prohibition often violated by employers. Voluntary arbitration decisions are enforceable by the courts, but this mechanism still is employed rarely. High-level Labor Ministry officials are available to mediate disputes.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee of Experts has noted deficiencies in the application of certain conventions ratified by the Government. These include conventions dealing with minimum-wage fixing machinery, abolition of forced labor, minimum age of employment, freedom of association, equal remuneration, and employment policy.

Unions are free to form and join federations or confederations and affiliate with and participate in international labor bodies.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides for collective bargaining, and 44 collective contracts were ratified in 1996. The number of negotiated collective contracts continued to grow; however, they were still the exception rather than the norm in labor-management relations and typically reaffirmed minimum standards established by law. When wages are not set in free negotiations between unions and employers, they are made a condition of individual offers of employment.

While the Constitution prohibits antiunion discrimination, the firing and harassment of some union organizers and leaders in the private sector continued. Fired union leaders can seek redress in the courts, but the labor tribunals have been slow to respond to complaints and typically favored business in disputes. The courts are not required to order the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities. As in previous years, in some cases where judges ordered reinstatement of discharged workers, the employers disregarded the court order with impunity. There are a number of cases in which trade union leaders, fired as long as 5 years ago, have not yet received a decision from the courts.

There were more than 50 strikes by unions affiliated with the Unitary Workers Central (CUT) alone. The vast majority of these were directly related to the firing of union officials (about 15 cases according to CUT leadership), to management violations of a collective contract, to management efforts to prevent the free association of workers, or to demands for benefits such as payment of the minimum wage or contribution to the social security system. The failure to meet salary payments also frequently precipitated labor disputes. Principal problems included bottlenecks in the judicial system and the inability or unwillingness of the Government to enforce labor laws. There were also complaints that management created parallel or factory unions to compete with independently formed unions. There were several cases of workers who chose not to protest because of fear of reprisal or anticipation of government inaction.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor, including that performed by children (see Section 6.d.). However, cases of abuse of national service obligations occurred. There were several reports of conscripts forced to work as servants or construction workers for military officers in their residences or privately owned businesses. Apart from abusing national service obligations, the authorities appear to enforce the law effectively.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The Director General for the Protection of Minors in the Ministry of Justice and Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. The law prohibits forced or bonded labor by children, and is enforced effectively. Minors between 15 and 18 years of age may be employed only with parental authorization and cannot be employed in dangerous or unhealthy conditions. Children between 12 and 15 years of age may be employed only in family enterprises, apprenticeships, or in agriculture. The Labor Code prohibits work by children under 12 years of age, and all children are required to attend elementary school. In practice, however, many thousands of children, many of them younger than 12 years of age, may be found in urban areas engaged in informal employment such as selling newspapers and sundries, shining shoes, and cleaning car windows. In rural areas, it is not unusual for children as young as 10 years of age to work beside their parents in the field. Local human rights groups do not regard families harvesting the crop together as an abuse of child labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The executive, through the Ministry of Justice and Labor, has established a private sector minimum wage sufficient to maintain a minimally adequate standard of living. The minimum salary is adjusted whenever annual inflation exceeds 10 percent and was approximately $240 (528,076 guaranies) per month at year's end. The Ministry is unable to enforce the minimum wage, however, and most analysts agree that from 50 to 70 percent of workers earn less than the decreed minimum.

The Labor Code allows for a standard legal workweek of 48 hours (42 hours for night work), with 1 day of rest. The law also provides for an annual bonus of 1 month's salary and a minimum of 6 vacation days a year. The law requires overtime payment for hours in excess of the standard, but there are no prohibitions on excessive compulsory overtime. Many employers violate these provisions. Workers in the transport sector routinely stage strikes to demand that their employers comply with the labor code's provisions on working hours, overtime, and minimum wage payments.

The Labor Code also stipulates conditions of safety, hygiene, and comfort. The Ministry of Justice and Labor and the Ministry of Health did not effectively enforce these provisions, due in part to a lack of inspectors and other resources. The Ministry sponsored the reconvening of a tripartite group of government, labor, and employers, in an effort to update the labor inspection manual, which was severely outdated. In addition to updating the labor manual, the program was initiated with the goal of expanding transparency in the labor inspection process.

Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their continued employment, but may not do so until such conditions are formally recognized by the Ministries of Justice and Labor and Health. Although workers who file complaints about such conditions are protected by law, many employers reportedly took disciplinary action against them.

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