U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Paraguay

PARAGUAY   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 second 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 the changes brought about by the June 1992 Constitution and the subsequent election of a civilian President and an opposition-controlled Congress. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. A new nine-member Supreme Court was installed in April, and started the difficult task of reforming the judicial system. 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. Instances of police abuses of human rights, including at least two possible cases of extrajudicial killings, took place during the year. 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) continue to be the most important export items. The formal economy has grown an average of 3 to 3.5 percent over the past 5 years, but population has increased at 3 percent a year over the same period. Both growth rates are expected to continue. Annual per capita income (excluding the informal economy) is approximately $1,500. Government reform efforts, including privatization, continued but advanced little in 1995. The Government's human rights record improved somewhat, although serious problems remain in certain areas. Principal human rights problems included possible instances of extrajudicial killings, torture and mistreatment of criminal suspects and prisoners, overcrowded prisons, 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. Discrimination against women and indigenous people are also problems. However, the Government acted with restraint by using unarmed policemen to control demonstrators during a general strike in September. In addition, the Government continued its efforts to convict and punish those who committed human rights abuses during the Stroessner era, bringing several cases to a successful conclusion.

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 reported instances of possible extrajudicial killings involving security force officials. On July 2 in Canindeyu department near the Brazilian border, 48 policemen stormed a house in pursuit of a man suspected of having killed a police officer. The suspect and four of his relatives (all Brazilians) were killed in the ensuing shoot-out. Neighbors and surviving relatives accused the police of torturing and executing several of the victims after they had surrendered. A police investigation resulted in a determination of no criminal liability. In another case, Francisco Torales, a 23-year-old carpenter, was walking home with his brother from a party when he became involved in an argument with a policeman and was killed; the policeman fled and has not yet been apprehended. Pedro Jimenez, a 17-year-old participant in a peasant protest march on September 7, was shot in the head and later died, while several other marchers received bullet wounds. The brother of the slain protester claimed that he had seen a policeman fire the fatal bullet. However, the bullet retrieved from Jimenez's body was metallic (police claimed that they used rubber bullets), and was not of a caliber normally used by the police. Other eyewitness accounts of the shooting are inconsistent. The case remains under investigation. The 1994 shooting case of peasant leader Sebastian Larrosa (reportedly by local police official Augusto Palacios) is still under investigation. The trial for the 1994 killing of Leonardo Molinas ended with the acquittal of the defendant, Walter Arce, on grounds of self-defense. The 1994 killing of peasant leader Esteban Balbuena by Elena Cubas, who recanted a confession that she had acted at the behest of unnamed officials, remains under investigation.

b. Disappearance

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. There was no evidence that senior officers encouraged or condoned such conduct, which was apparently committed by undisciplined security force members. A human rights group, the Committee of Churches, filed several lawsuits on behalf of tortured prisoners, and these cases remained pending in the courts. There were credible reports of mistreatment of women and minors and of brutal attempts to force confessions out of detainees. No administrative action was taken in these cases. Another human rights group, Tekojoja, reported in 1994 that children in police custody were particularly susceptible to physical punishment. It stated that torture and abuse, typically beatings and placing a plastic bag over the head, occur against juveniles at a higher rate than against adult detainees. This pattern of police conduct reportedly continued, and the Committee of Churches filed several new cases against detention officials for the abuse of minors in their custody. These cases were pending in the courts at year's end; no administrative action was taken. An activist in the conscientious objector movement claimed to have been forcibly removed from a bus and taken to a military barracks at Ciudad del Este on November 4. The individual reported that he was beaten and abused. However, he did not file a complaint, and thus the police have not opened an investigation. Prison conditions remained poor. Overcrowding and mistreatment of prisoners were the most serious problems. 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 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. However, the authorities often violated these provisions. More than 90 percent of an estimated 1,700 prisoners are being held pending trial. As of June, courts had passed sentence on only 99 out of 1,366 detainees at Tacumbu Prison, 10 out of 95 at Emboscada Prison, 6 out of 117 at Buen Pastor Women's Prison, and 7 out of 140 minors at the Panchito Lopez Juvenile Prison. Although a bail system exists for most crimes, juveniles cannot post bond. Furthermore, judges frequently set relatively high bail, 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 Octaciano Nunez Goiburu, released in September, who spent nearly 2 years in jail because police had mistaken him for another man and failed to bring him before a judge on charges within a reasonable time. The Supreme Court, the Public Ministry (Attorney General's office), 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 by over 20 percent the number of criminal cases pending more than 1 year. The Supreme Court and many criminal court judges also made quarterly visits to the prisons to identify and release improperly held individuals. For example, Aquino Alcaraz was sentenced to 10 years in prison for abuse of a minor, but actually made to serve 13 1/2 years before a Supreme Court order finally released him. Credible reports continued that landowners, many of them Brazilians living near the border in the Alto Parana, Canindeyu, and Amambay departments, acted without court orders and armed their employees for the purpose of removing squatters from their property. Some of the evictions reportedly were violent, and there were unsubstantiated reports of fatalities. However, the authorities undertook no effective action in response to these reports. The Constitution does not expressly prohibit forced exile but states that all citizens have the right to reside in their country.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the new nine-member Supreme Court is independent in practice. The new Supreme Court was selected jointly by an independent Magistrates' Council, the Senate, and the executive earlier in the year. There are four types of appellate tribunals: civil and commercial, criminal, labor, and juvenile. Several minor courts and justices of the peace fall within these four functional areas. Based on recommendations from the Magistrates' Council, the Supreme Court has begun selecting some 650 lower court judges and magistrates. Many of the judges active during 1995 were holdover appointments made by former dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who were serving in an interim capacity beyond their established 5-year term. The Chief Justice accused many of them of making judicial decisions in return for bribes. Intimidation, political motives, and friendship with senior military officers and Colorado Party officials are also suspected as factors influencing judicial decisions. Although the 1992 Constitution stipulates that all defendants have the right to an attorney, at public expense if necessary, there are only 31 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. A Public Ministry official is responsible in most cases 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 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. The military has its own judicial system. In March a separate documentation center and repository was created to hold the government archives discovered in December 1992, which document various human rights abuses and implicate many former government officials of the Stroessner regime. The courts continued to convict several Stroessner-era officialsÚÚ Lucilo Benitez, Pastor Coronel, Martinez Chavez, Augustin Belotto, and Camilo Almada MorelÚÚfor human rights abuses and imposed sentences of up to 25 years. However, the Committee of Churches still had several cases against alleged Stroessner-era human rights abusers pending 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, 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 allegations that the Government occasionally spied on individuals and monitored communications for political and security reasons. There were also accusations that some government agencies required or pressured their employees to join 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, including academic freedom, and the Government respects these rights in practice. 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. However, in July Judge Carlos Monges issued an injunction ordering Radio Nanduti, a respected independent station, to refrain from commenting on allegedly corrupt actions by former President Andres Rodriguez. This decision was subsequently rescinded on appeal. In September a judicial ethics tribunal ordered Monges' removal for misuse of office, unprofessional behavior, and suspected corruption in numerous cases. The 1994 case of former presidential candidate Ricardo Canese remains under judicial appeal. He 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. The Vice Minister of the Interior had promised to investigate police behavior after police officers beat several news photographers who were attempting to photograph a clash between police and striking workers at a cooking oil plant in Itaugua on August 17, 1994. However, the authorities made no effort to fulfill that promise. No suspects have yet been found in connection with a May 1993 election day attack on independent television Channel 13.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right of all citizens to free association and peaceful assembly. 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. 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. Most political and social demonstrations and rallies occurred without incident. Some rallies, however, ended in violent clashes with the police. On July 25, Armed Forces Day, opposition Senator Nilda Estigarriba received wounds to her head after a confrontation with police during a protest march. The police investigation concluded that the demonstrators had provoked the police. The September 7 death of Pedro Jimenez occurred during a melee that ensued when police attempted to prevent protesting peasants from blocking a major road (see Section 1.a.). However, the authorities showed increased restraint in dealing with a general strike in September (see Section 6.b.).

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. 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 travel freely within the country with virtually no restrictions. Nor are there any 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. Four parties are represented in 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 frank; it is not uncommon for legislators to trade insults or physical blows. The Congress routinely rejects important government proposals and overrides presidential vetoes. Vestiges remain of the Stroessner-era merging of the State and the ruling 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 to party coffers. In addition, the military continues to wield significant political power. There are no formal legal impediments to women seeking to participate in government and politics. Five women serve in the Congress (3 of 45 Senators and 2 of 80 National Deputies), and there is 1 woman, the Secretary for Women's Affairs, in the Cabinet. Seven women served as judges, and 30 women served as Public Ministry prosecutors. Members of indigenous groups are entitled to vote, and the percentage of indigenous people who exercised this right grew 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 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. 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 Attorney General for action. It also serves as a clearing house for information on human rights and has trained thousands of educators in human rights law.

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.


Reports of spousal abuse are rare, but the Government has recently begun to press charges in cases of domestic violence. To date, however, the courts have not yet convicted any perpetrators of domestic violence against women. There is legislation which prohibits trafficking in women and sexual exploitation, but it is not enforced effectively. Exploitation of women, especially teenage prostitutes, remains a serious problem. In 1994 the municipal health department of Asuncion reported that 58 percent of the prostitutes in the capital are minors under 18 years of age, a figure that reportedly reflects conditions in 1995. In October 1994 the police arrested several brothel owners, including one former police commissioner, but the cases were eventually dropped for alleged lack of criminal evidence, and because the municipality declined to prosecute. 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. Several groups work in Asuncion to improve conditions for women. One is SEFEM, which highlights successfully such issues as women and public policy, women and social policy at the local level, participation of women in local development, and women in the Americas. Other groups include Sumando, a NGO promoting educational reform policy and voter participation in elections, and Women for Democracy, active in civic and electoral education. These groups are effective advocates for change.


The Constitution protects certain children's rights, including a stipulation that parents and the State care for, feed, educate, and support children. Boys and girls are entitled to equal treatment in education and health care. There is no pattern of societal abuse of children. However, 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. Baby trafficking continued to be a serious problem, as foreign adoptive parents were willing to pay from $20,000 to $40,000 in adoption fees and costs for a healthy child. In September the President signed a law providing for a 1-year suspension of international adoptions in order to study and pass new legislation to alleviate the problem. 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 years for military service. There were reported violations, however, and the military took no known disciplinary action against those responsible, although in one instance President Wasmosy publicly berated the offending officer. In October a 16-year-old conscript died reportedly while performing disciplinary physical exercises. The case is now under investigation by military authorities. The media regularly report cases of conscripts allegedly mistreated by non-commissioned and commissioned officers.

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 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.

Indigenous People

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 people 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 with the right to participate in the economic, social, political, and cultural life of the nation. The Constitution also protects their property interests, but these constitutional rights are still not fully codified. In accordance with the Constitution, Public Ministry officials may represent indigenous people in matters involving the protection of life and property. 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. However, 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 development and modernization. Despite frequent media attention and meetings with government officials, little progress was made 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 which 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 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. 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. The Constitution provides for the right to strike, bans binding arbitration, and prohibits retribution against strikers and leaders carrying out routine union business. Although high-level officials from the Ministry of Justice and Labor are available to mediate labor disputes, the International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association criticized the Government for failing to protect worker rights in four cases concluded in November. 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 many collective contracts were successfully concluded. The number of successfully 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 made 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 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 15 strikes by unions affiliated with the Unitary Workers Central (CUT) alone. The vast majority of these were directly related to the firing of union organizers, 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 frequently precipitated labor disputes. Principal problems included bottlenecks in the judicial system and the 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 who chose not to protest because of fear of reprisal or anticipation of government inaction. The CUT and the National Workers Central cosponsored a general strike on September 25 to protest government economic policy and the alleged "repression" of peasant land squatters. The general strike was marked by shuttered shops, scattered violence, roadblocks, and demonstrations, but no deaths occurred. A judge threatened to charge labor leaders with inciting violence, but no action was taken. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor. However, cases of abuse of national service obligations occurred. There were several reports of draftees forced to work as servants for military officers in their residences or privately owned businesses. Apart from abusing 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 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, 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 to work beside their parents in the field. Local human rights groups, however, 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 was adjusted by 15 percent in May to approximately $222 a month (436,425 guaranies) in response to a loss in real purchasing power of more than 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 transport sector staged several strikes 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 these 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 reportedly took disciplinary action against protesting employees.

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