Republic of Paraguay
Head of state and government: Luis Ángel González Macchi (replaced Raúl Cubas Grau in March)
Population: 5 million
Official languages: Spanish, Guaraní
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
1999 treaty ratifications/signatures: Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty
Paraguay's longstanding political crisis culminated in March with the assassination of Vice-President Luis María Argaña and the killing of at least seven demonstrators. There were reports that judicial investigations into the killings were obstructed by police, and concerns regarding the fairness of the judicial proceedings against a number of individuals. As in previous years there were reports of ill-treatment or torture of criminal suspects, of excessive use of force by the security forces in land evictions, of illegal conscription of minors into the armed forces, and of unexplained deaths of military conscripts.
President Raúl Cubas Grau resigned following public outrage at the assassination of Vice-President Luis María Argaña and the killing of at least seven demonstrators in March. Luis Ángel González Macchi was sworn in as President at the head of a coalition government.
The institutional crisis which culminated in the March events dated from 1998 when an extraordinary military court sentenced former army commander and presidential candidate Lino Oviedo to 10 years' imprisonment for an attempted coup in 1996. The presidential elections were won by Lino Oviedo's vice-presidential running mate, Raúl Cubas, who immediately ordered Lino Oviedo's release. However, the Supreme Court ruled this action unconstitutional and ordered Lino Oviedo's rearrest; President Cubas refused to comply with the ruling. A coalition of opposition parties and a section of the ruling Colorado Party, headed by Vice-President Argaña, initiated impeachment proceedings against President Cubas. In early 1999 the political climate rapidly deteriorated as preparation of these proceedings progressed. There were numerous reports that Lino Oviedo was planning to seize power by force.
The March killings
On 23 March Vice-President Argaña and his bodyguard were shot and killed by gunmen in Asunción. In the ensuing crisis, the congressional impeachment hearing against President Cubas was brought forward. On 26 and 27 March supporters of Lino Oviedo, who were seeking to prevent the impeachment hearing, opened fire on people demonstrating in support of Congress and calling for the resignation of President Cubas. At least seven demonstrators were killed and more than 100 others injured. There were eyewitness accounts that police officers assisted the attackers and that some police officers fired on protesters.
President Cubas resigned and fled to Brazil. Lino Oviedo, who was accused of ordering the violence, sought asylum in Argentina. In December Lino Oviedo went into hiding when the new Argentine government promised to revoke his asylum status.
Investigations into the March killings
There were separate investigations into the assassination of Vice-President Argaña and into the killings outside Congress. The investigation into the assassination of Vice-President Argaña and his bodyguard resulted in a number of arrests and produced intense public controversy, particularly with regard to the reliability of witness testimony. There were widespread allegations of manipulation of the case by the media and politicians. By November a number of those originally accused of the murders had been released on bail and the judicial authorities were seeking the detention of newly identified suspects.
In the aftermath of the shootings outside Congress, scores of people were arrested, including the Chief of National Police. Police reportedly hampered the investigation by failing to examine the crime scene effectively or to register victims properly, and by mislaying ballistics reports.
A judicial process was also initiated against more than 20 politicians and journalists who had supported Lino Oviedo or President Cubas, for allegedly inciting the March violence and violating the Constitution. Many of the accused were initially held in pre-trial detention and later placed under house arrest. There was concern at the apparent lack of evidence against a number of the accused, particularly former senator Miguel Ángel González Casabianca and former Vice-President Ángel Roberto Seifart.
Bicameral Commission of Investigation
The two houses of parliament created a commission to investigate the March events. The inquiry, which did not have judicial status, issued a report in October condemning Lino Oviedo and his supporters. There was concern at the apparent bias of the report and its possible negative impact on continuing judicial proceedings against the accused, and at the manner in which it contributed to a climate of political persecution against those who had shown support for Lino Oviedo or President Cubas.
Torture and ill-treatment
As in previous years, there were reports of torture and ill-treatment of criminal suspects, including minors, in prisons and police stations.
- In late December criminal investigations were initiated after 23 inmates of Ciudad del Este men's prison filed a criminal complaint against the director of the prison for torture and ill-treatment; he had reportedly ordered prison guards to beat the inmates over a half-hour period. The director of Emboscada prison, where the inmates were immediately transferred after the incident, reportedly confirmed that men showed signs of severe ill-treatment.
There were numerous reports of harassment, intimidation and attacks on peasant farmers in the context of land disputes. There was no information regarding investigations or efforts by the authorities to bring to justice those responsible.
- In April Arnaldo Delvalle, a peasant farmer in Puerto Indio, Alto Paraná department, was reportedly tortured and then shot dead on the orders of a local landowner acting with the support of the local police.
- In November, during the violent eviction of over 1,000 peasant farmers occupying land in the General Resquín district of San Pedro department, police were reportedly responsible for shooting dead Crescencio González and injuring nine other peasant farmers.
There were fewer reports than in previous years of the illegal forced and arbitrary recruitment of youths, including minors, into the armed forces. However, the conscription of minors by coercive means continued to be the predominant method of recruitment, violating both national legislation and international standards. There were frequent reports of ill-treatment of conscripts. Four conscripts died in unexplained circumstances in 1999. The authorities continued to fail to carry out proper investigations into such cases.
- In April Marcial Torres, a 17-year-old conscript in the National Police, reportedly died as a result of a beating by his superior.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
The authorities failed to carry out two explicit commitments made to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Firstly, to transfer those held in the Panchito López juvenile correction centre to new premises minors continued to be detained there in conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Secondly, Congress failed once again to fulfil its longstanding obligation to appoint a People's Ombudsman. In July the IACHR issued a press release containing wide-ranging recommendations following a visit to Paraguay.
AI country reports and visits
- Paraguay: The new government must end impunity (AI Index: AMR 45/002/99)
AI delegates visited Paraguay in October and met state officials, including the President.
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