United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Paraguay, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4638.html [accessed 4 March 2015]
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Paraguay has been independent since 1811, but until 1989 was ruled almost continuously by authoritarian regimes. On August 15, Juan Carlos Wasmosy, Paraguay's first freely elected civilian President, completed his initial year of a 5-year term. Wasmosy pledged to consolidate the nation's democratic transition, which began following the February 1989 overthrow of dictator General Alfredo Stroessner. 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. The Colorado Party and the armed forces continue to exercise substantial influence, although the opposition's power has increased as a result of a combination of the changes brought about by the June 1992 Constitution and the subsequent election of a civilian President and an opposition-controlled Congress. The national police force, under the overall authority of the Ministry of the Interior, has responsibility for maintaining internal security and public order. Police abuses of human rights, including extrajudicial killings, continued in 1994. In contrast to previous years, however, the Government did convict and sentence three police officers for killing civilians. Members of the armed forces continued to insert themselves into the political process, including using their influence over the courts to ensure decisions that validate their political activities. While some military officials accused of human rights abuses during 1994 were suspended and investigated, none were arrested, sentenced, or convicted. Paraguay has a market economy based on the export of primary agricultural products. A substantial percentage of the work force is employed in the informal economy, which may account for 40 to 60 percent of the gross domestic product. Efforts to privatize state-owned enterprises continued in 1994. Real economic growth was expected to be about 3.6 percent. Principal human rights problems included extrajudicial killings, torture and mistreatment of criminal suspects and prisoners, police and military corruption, detention of suspects without judicial orders, general weaknesses within the judiciary, firings of labor organizers, and military intrusions into the judicial and political systems. The Government began efforts to convict and punish those committing human rights abuses during the Stroessner era, and the courts sentenced persons in several such cases in 1994.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were at least two extrajudicial killings involving security force officials, including the shooting of peasant leader Sebastian Larrosa (reportedly by local police official Augusto Palacios) and the killing by naval official Walter Arce, apparently while inebriated, of Leonardo Molinas. Both cases remained under investigation at year's end. In April Elena Cubas killed peasant leader Esteban Balbuena in Colonia 7 de Agosto, Itapua. Balbuena was one of the most visible organizers and participants in local rural worker organizations and in demonstrations against the Government's agrarian policy. Although police officials originally dismissed the killing as a "crime of passion," when Cubas was arrested, she originally told police that she followed the instructions of unnamed officials. She later recanted, and the case remained under investigation at year's end. During the year at least two other peasant leaders were also killed. In August several unidentified attackers fought with and killed German Ayala, a peasant leader in Itapua and a witness in the Balbuena case. In April three unknown persons killed Hilario Sanabria, a peasant leader in Caaguazu, while he was returning home from a soccer game. Their associates asserted that antipeasant vigilante groups were responsible. There was no indication that the Government investigated these claims. In a departure from prior practice, the Government began to convict and punish police officials who committed serious human rights abuses. In April police official Aurelio Enciso was sentenced to 6 years of prison for the 1991 killing of Juan Desiderio Ortellado Cardozo, a 14-year-old suspected of trespassing. In September police official Marciano Ramon Lopez Pintos was sentenced to 19 years in prison for the 1989 murders of Gregorio Bernal and Pablo Gonzalez. Also in September, police official Cirilio Paniagua was sentenced to 8 years in prison for the 1990 killing of Fermina Martinez Velazquez.
There were no reported cases of abductions by security forces.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Torture and brutal and degrading treatment of convicted prisoners and other detainees continued. Police, military, and prison guards were implicated in the mistreatment of individuals in their custody. Although the authorities arrested some and held them for investigation and trial, they actually tried, convicted, or appropriately punished very few. There were credible reports of mistreatment of women and minors and of brutal attempts to force confessions out of detainees. A respected human rights group, Tekojoja, reported that children in police custody were particularly susceptible to physical punishment, with torture and abuse occurring against juveniles at a higher rate than against adult detainees. The human rights group accused the police in several cases of torturing minors by placing plastic bags over their heads, knocking out their teeth, using a hammer to beat their backs, or scalding their hands and feet to force a confession. Many minors reported being denied food, drink, or access to bathrooms for up to 3 days. Both Tekojoja and another well-known human rights group, the Committee of Churches, filed charges against several officials for the abuse of minors in their custody. None of the many persons charged in court of torturing minors were convicted during the year. Prison conditions remained poor. Overcrowding and mistreatment of prisoners were the most serious problems. Conditions were particularly poor in the Panchito Lopez youth prison. An independent investigation of the prison revealed that the institution was unsanitary, unsafe, and extremely overcrowded; although originally built as a single family home, the institution houses between 130 and 150 detainees. The Tacumbu men's prison is similarly overcrowded. The human rights committee of the Brazilian Attorneys' Association released a statement declaring that the Paraguayan prisons in Alto Parana and Canindeyu were "inhuman." The Government permits independent monitoring of prison conditions by interested nongovernmental organizations (NGO's).
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution prohibits detention without an arrest warrant signed by a judge and stipulates that any person arrested must be presented 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 present them before a judge within 24 hours. However, the authorities often violated these provisions. More than 90 percent of an estimated 3,000 prisoners are held without arrest warrants, orders of detention, or convictions. Courts have passed sentence on only 6 percent of the detainees at Tacumbu prison, only 2.5 percent of the detainees at the Buen Pastor women's prison, and virtually none of the detainees at the Panchito Lopez juvenile prison. Although a bail system exists for most crimes, juveniles cannot post bond. Furthermore, judges frequently set bail very high, and many accused are unable to post bond. Throughout the year the authorities arrested and imprisoned individuals without following the constitutional legal process. There were a number of cases similar to that of Lucia Galeano Rivas, who remained imprisoned 4 months without cause. Galeano Rivas was first imprisoned on the basis of an order signed by a justice of the peace who did not have the legal authority to issue such a warrant and which did not specify the grounds for her arrest. Almost 3 months later, she appeared before a criminal court judge who could find no cause for her imprisonment and released her. In many other cases, police officials took persons into custody by without a valid judicial order and did not present them before a judge for several days. The Supreme Court, the Public Ministry, and a judicial working group took steps to reduce the large number of detainees held without being sentenced or without cause. During the year, they reduced the number of criminal cases pending more than 1 year by over 20 percent. The Supreme Court and many criminal court judges also made quarterly visits to the prisons to identify and release improperly held individuals. In August the authorities released Isabelino Villalba after he served 20 years in prison without being sentenced. The Constitution does not expressly prohibit forced exile but states that all citizens have the right to reside in their country. Credible reports continued that landowners, many of them Brazilians living near the border in the Alto Parana, Canindeyu and Amambay departments, armed their employees to remove squatters from their property without court orders. Some of the evictions reportedly were violent, and there were unsubstantiated reports of fatalities. However, the authorities undertook no investigation into these incidents.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judicial branch is comprised of a five-member Supreme Court headed by a president. There are four appellate tribunals: civil and commercial, criminal, labor, and juvenile. Several minor courts and justices of the peace fall within these four functional areas. Although the 1992 Constitution stipulates that all defendants have the right to an attorney at public expense, if necessary, there are only five public defenders available to the transient and the indigent. Many destitute suspects receive little legal assistance, and few have access to an attorney sufficiently in advance of the trial to prepare a defense. The State is represented by a Public Ministry official, who is responsible for bringing charges against accused persons. Trials are conducted almost exclusively by presentation of written documents to a judge, who then renders a decision. Defendants and the State can present written testimony of witnesses and 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. The military has its own judicial system. Although the 1992 Constitution prescribes that judges be selected by a combination of an independent Magistrate's Council, the Congress, and the executive, that body was not constituted until late October. Accordingly, many of the judges active during 1994 were holdover appointments made by former dictator Alfredo Stroessner serving in an interim capacity beyond their established 5-year term. Several of them were alleged to make judicial decisions on the basis of bribery, intimidation, political motives, and friendship with senior military officers and Colorado Party officials. In March the President ordered the transfer or retirement of over 70 judges, and he made several judicial appointments by fiat. Following the December 1992 discovery of government archives documenting various human rights abuses and implicating many former government officials of the Stroessner regime, in 1994 the courts convicted several Stroessner-era officials for human rights abuses and imposed sentences of up to 25 years. The Committee of Churches, one of the nation's most prominent human rights groups, had over 16 cases against alleged Stroessner-era human rights abusers pending at year's end. There are no political prisoners, and the Government does not punish political activity.
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, there were exceptions. 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 credible reports that at times the authorities ignored this legal guarantee, particularly in the country's interior. There were also allegations that the Government occasionally spied on individuals and monitored communications for political and security reasons.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of expression and the press. The public and the press exercised these rights more freely than at any time in the nation's recent history. Opposition viewpoints were freely discussed, and criticism of the Government was ubiquitous in the media. On June 9, President Wasmosy signed the Declaration of Chapultepec pledging to support freedom of the press. Nonetheless, there were some restrictions on expression. Former presidential candidate Ricardo Canese was found guilty of criminal slander and sentenced to 4 months in prison and a $7,000 fine for accusing President Wasmosy of providing kickbacks to the family of former dictator Alfredo Stroessner during the construction of the Itaipu dam. Canese appealed his conviction, and the case remained under review at year's end. Government forces also occasionally inhibited reporting. During the May 2 general strike, police officials threatened seven reporters and told them to stop filming a clash between police and workers in Ciudad del Este. Gunfire that same day gravely injured journalist Carlos Mariano Godoy while he was reporting on striking workers in the town of Tacuara, San Pedro. Police officials beat several photographers when they attempted to photograph a clash between police and striking workers at an oil plant in Itaugua on August 17. The Vice Minister of the Interior met with the photographers and promised to investigate police behavior. At year's end, however, the authorities had taken no action against these police officials. In April military officials confiscated reporter Ismael Villalba's camera and held him for over an hour, after he tried to photograph a Congressman meeting with a soldier. The investigation into the May 1993 election day attack on independent television Channel 13 continued at year's end with no suspects having been arrested. Some reporters were threatened and physically attacked during 1994, although investigative reporting continued. As in the past, threats were made against persons examining allegations of official corruption, the contraband trade, and ties to the Stroessner regime. There were no restrictions on academic freedom.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution establishes the right of association and peaceful assembly for all citizens, but the security forces occasionally impeded protest demonstrations. A law regulating demonstrations in Asuncion limits the areas where and the hours when they may take place and 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. Under the law, a police ban is permitted 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. Most of the various political and social demonstrations and rallies occurred without incident. Some rallies, however, ended in violent clashes with the police. During the May 2 general strike, violent incidents occurred in Tacuara, San Pedro; Fernando de la Mora, Central department; and in Ciudad del Este, Alto Parana. The Government also attempted to inhibit a March 15 peasant rally to protest agrarian policy. Government forces established roadblocks at key road junctions leading to Asuncion and caused hours-long delays while police officials carried out time consuming and uncommon reviews of vehicle registrations and driver's licenses of persons transporting peasants to the rally. The police also detained many bus passengers traveling to Asuncion.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of conscience for all persons and recognizes no official religion. The Government continued to respect this freedom in 1994. 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 no controls are imposed on these groups by the Government.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
All citizens travel freely within the country with virtually no restrictions. There are no restrictions on foreign travel or emigration. 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. There were no reports of refugees forced to return to countries in which 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. Three parties elected candidates to the Congress, and nine candidates ran for the Presidency in 1993. 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 the Congress routinely rejects important government proposals. Vestiges remain of the Stroessner-era merging of the State and the ruling Colorado Party. Throughout the year the press documented the use of state resources, particularly vehicles, to support party political rallies. There were also credible reports of party officials requiring public employees to attend party functions. In addition, the military continued to wield significant political power. Members of indigenous groups are entitled to vote, and the percentage of indigenous people who exercised this privilege grew dramatically in recent years. Nonetheless, the inhabitants of many indigenous communities were threatened or inhibited from fully exercising their political rights. Some were threatened with death or with losing access to cooperatives and stores unless they supported certain party officials or practices. While there are no formal legal impediments, women often face significant obstacles when they seek to participate in government and politics. Participation by women in the political system, although improved in 1994, was still limited in the male-dominated society of Paraguay. Few women serve in the Congress (3 of 45 Senators and 2 of 80 National Deputies), or the executive branch. During the year, the President named two women to ambassadorial posts, and one woman, the Secretary for Women's Affairs, serves in the Cabinet.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Several human rights groups operate in Paraguay, 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), 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 groups in 1994. The office of the Director General of Human Rights, located in the Ministry of Justice and Labor, continued to sponsor seminars to promote human rights awareness. This 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 office of the Attorney General for action. It also serves as a clearing house for information on human rights and trained thousands of educators in human rights law in 1994.
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.
Exploitation of women, especially teenaged prostitutes, remained a serious problem. The municipal health department of Asuncion reported that 58 percent of the prostitutes in the capital are minors under 18 years of age. Police frequently raided brothels in which minors were employed. In contrast to the impunity granted brothel owners in the past, in October the police arrested several brothel owners, including one former police commissioner. However, the courts had sentenced none of the accused by year's end. The Government only recently began pressing domestic violence charges against individuals. To date, however, the courts have not yet convicted any perpetrators of violence against women. The office of the Secretary for Women's Affairs continued to sponsor programs to enable women to have free and equal access to employment, social security, housing, ownership of land, and business opportunities. However, authorities paid insufficient attention to sex-related job discrimination. Some women complained that job promotions were conditioned upon their granting sexual favors.
The Constitution protects certain children's rights, including a stipulation that parents and the State care for, feed, educate, and support children. Nonetheless, approximately 26,000 children work in urban areas as street vendors, shining shoes, 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 charge those who seek to leave domestic jobs with robbery and turn them over to the police. The armed forces Chief of Staff ordered all officers responsible for recruiting to ensure that all conscripts met the constitutionally mandated minimum age of 17 for military service. Many officers violated this order with impunity, however, and the military took no disciplinary action against them.
Paraguay has an unassimilated and neglected indigenous population estimated at 75,000 to 100,000. Weak organization and lack of financial resources continued to limit access by indigenous peoples to the political and economic system. Indigenous groups relied primarily upon parliamentary commissions to promote their particular interests, notwithstanding the fact that the Constitution provides indigenous people the right to participate in the economic, social, political, and cultural life of the nation. The Constitution also contains protection for their property interests, but these constitutional rights are still not fully codified. The Government's National Indigenous Institute has the authority to purchase land on behalf of indigenous communities and to expropriate private property under certain conditions to establish tribal homelands, but the entity continued to be poorly funded. In addition, 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 were lack of education, malnutrition, lack of medical attention, and economic displacement resulting from development and modernization. Despite frequent media attention, little progress was made in 1994 in dealing with these problems.
The Korean and Chinese communities experience social and economic discrimination and are sometimes denied access to credit terms enjoyed by other Paraguayans. They are also sometimes discriminated against in the housing market and do not have equal access to private institutions and schools. Although discrimination on the basis of national, racial, or ethnic background is unconstitutional, the only redress is through the civil courts. Because of the costs, standard length of a civil case (approximately 3 to 4 years), and a lack of public confidence in those courts by those discriminated against, most never seek redress in court. During the year there were no court judgments in civil cases brought on grounds of ethnic or racial discrimination.
People with Disabilities
The 1992 Constitution guarantees equal opportunity to 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 prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and integration into society of people with disabilities. Legislation establishing these programs, however, has not yet been enacted. Many people with disabilities face significant discrimination in employment; others are unable to seek employment because of a lack of accessible public transportation. Other than the constitutional provisions establishing equal opportunity, accessibility for the disabled has not been mandated through law; the vast majority of the nation's buildings, both public and private, are inaccessible to people with disabilities.
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 which protect fundamental workers' rights, including an antidiscrimination clause, provisions for employment tenure, severance pay for unjustified firings, collective bargaining, and the right to strike. Approximately 9 percent of workers are organized. In general, unions are independent of the Government and political parties. However one of the nation's three labor centrals, the Confederation of Paraguayan Workers (CPT), has traditionally been closely aligned with the ruling Colorado Party. The Government does not require the CPT to comply with union election requirements to the same extent that it requires compliance from the other labor centrals. Government officials were also accused of encouraging some of the recently organized public sector unions to affiliate with the CPT. All unions must be registered with the Ministry of Justice and Labor. The registration process is cumbersome and can take several months. Furthermore, employers who wish to oppose the formation of a union can further delay union recognition by filing a writ with the Government opposing it. Virtually all unions that request recognition eventually receive it, however. The Constitution protects the right to strike and bans binding arbitration. Furthermore, high-level officials from the Ministry of Justice and Labor have made themselves available to mediate labor conflicts. The Constitution protects strikers and leaders against retribution, and several strikes occurred in 1994. Despite these provisions, employers dismissed many strikers and labor leaders for attempting to form unions, for carrying out routine union business, or for carrying out strikes. The International Labor Organization (ILO) is currently considering two pending claims against the Government for alleged violations of international labor standards. 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 collective contracts were successfully concluded in many cases. The number of successfully negotiated collective contracts continued to grow in 1994; however, collective contracts 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 employment offered to employees. 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 courts have been slow to respond to complaints and typically favor 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 within the last 5 years, have not yet received a decision from the courts. There were over 20 strikes by unions affiliated with the independent labor central CUT alone, the vast majority of which were directly related to the firing of union organizers, to management violations of a collective contract, to management efforts to prevent workers from freely associating, or to benefit demands such as payment of the minimum wage or contribution to the social security system. The failure to meet salary payments frequently precipitated labor problems. Principal problems included bottlenecks in the judicial system and an inability of the Government to enforce labor laws. There were also complaints of management creating parallel or "factory" unions to compete with independently formed unions. There were several cases of workers not receiving the legally established minimum wage or overtime pay who choose not to protest because of fear of reprisal or anticipation of government inaction. Paraguay has no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced labor. However, substantiated cases of abuse of national service obligations occurred during 1994. There were several documented cases of draftees forced to serve as laborers for military officers in their residences or privately owned businesses. Other than the abuse of national service obligations, the authorities appear to effectively enforce the law. Domestics, children, and foreign workers are not forced to remain in situations amounting to coerced or bonded labor.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The office of the Director General for the Protection of Minors in the Ministry of Justice and Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. Minors between 15 to 18 years of age may be employed only with parental authorization and cannot be employed under 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 younger than 12, work 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 to work beside their parents in the field.
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 was adjusted by 10 percent in June to $200 (379,000 guarani) a month in response to a loss in real purchasing power of between 30 to 40 percent since 1989. The Ministry is unable, however, to enforce the minimum wage, 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, however, violate these provisions. Workers in the transportation sector struck in March to demand that their work day be limited to 8 hours and that they be paid the minimum wage. The Labor Code also stipulates conditions of safety, hygiene, and comfort. However, the Ministry of Justice and Labor did not effectively enforce the Code's safety and hygiene provisions, partially due to the lack of inspectors. This led the labor movement to sponsor inspector training programs designed to ensure that violations were registered with the Ministry. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from situations which endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their continued employment. Although workers who file complaints about such conditions are protected by law, many employers took disciplinary action against protesting employees with impunity.