1. The Commission submitted its report on the Situation of Human Rights in Paraguay to the VIII Regular Session of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, held on June 21 to July 1 of 1978. In that report, the Commission reached the conclusion that the situation in Paraguay was such that “The large majority of human rights recognized by the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and by other similar instruments, are not only not observed in accordance with the international commitments undertaken by that country, but their violation has become habitual.”
In that Report, the Commission made concrete remarks with respect to violations of the right to life, to physical integrity, to personal freedom, to trial, to freedom of expression and dissemination of thought and information and the right to assembly and association.
In that report, the Commission severely criticized the permanent application of the state of siege, the indiscriminate application of Article 79 of the National Constitution that allows invocation of a state of siege and which permits the Executive to arrest citizens and detain them indefinitely without bringing charges. It also criticized the non observance of the remedy of habeas corpus, as well as the existence of Law Nº 294 of October 17, 1955, entitled “Law on Defense of Democracy” on which the Commission stated at that time that “It defines as a crime the simple fact of disseminating a political ideology,” and Law Nº 209 of September 18, 1970, which is entitled “Defense of Public Peace and Freedom of Persons.”
The General Assembly, in Resolution 370, (VII-0/78) resolved “To thank the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for its Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Paraguay and to request it to continue considering the situation of human rights in that country and to report on it to the General Assembly at its next regular session”.
In compliance with this and subsequent mandates from the General Assembly, on the basis of the provisions of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and in keeping with its Statute and Regulations, the Commission continued to study the situation of human rights in Paraguay, and reported its observations in sections of the Annual Reports that it presented to the General Assembly of the OAS at its ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth sessions.
4. In those reports, the Commission has noted that during the period they cover, although on the one hand some progress was made in certain fields, particularly with respect to the right to life, there being no denunciations of such violations in the last three years, and in the right to freedom of religion and worship, on the other hand there continue to be violations of other fundamental human rights in Paraguay.
5. The IACHR considers it appropriate to study in this report certain acts that have taken place during the period covered by this report, and to study situations that have remained unchanged since the 1978 report, and which affect the observance of various human rights.
6. With respect to the right to personal freedom and security, the situation of anxiety and insecurity of the people of Paraguay has not changed, as the state of siege has continued to be extended every 90 days, and Laws 209 and 294 are still in force, which had been severely criticized by the Commission in all its reports.
Nevertheless, the Commission should state at this time that in accordance with information submitted to it, the Executive has used the authority granted to him under Article 79 of the National Constitution, to arrest and indefinitely detain citizens, less frequently.
It should also be mentioned that in recent months relations between the Mission of Paraguay to the OAS and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have improved, which has allowed the IACHR to take steps before the Paraguayan authorities, which, based on grounds of humanitarian concern and justice, have made it possible to resolve the irregular situation of several detainees. Thus, Mr. Cantalicio Orue, who had been in prison for seven years by order of the National Executive, was released on January 12, 1984. Likewise, on May 21, 1984, former sergeant Escolastico Guillermo Ovando was released, who after completing a 15 year prison term ordered by a military court in December of 1977, was still in prison at the order of the National Executive under the terms of Article 79 of the Constitution. Both Orue and Ovando, as well as other detainees, had turned to the extreme recourse of a hunger strike to demand justice. A large international campaign had also been undertaken for Ovando.
7. With respect to the right to trial and to due process, the Commission notes that the habeas corpus remedy is still suspended, and the right to due process is seriously questioned, not only because there is no independent judiciary, but also due to the reason that defense attorneys are threatened and thus forced to abandon the defense of their clients.
The Police Chief of the capital, General Francisco Alcibiades Brites, when denying that detained persons had been tortured in police quarters, accused the defendants’ defense attorneys of receiving instructions from the outlawed Communist Party.
This led the Paraguayan Episcopal Conference to issue a statement, of which the relevant part is cited below:
The Paraguayan Episcopal Conference learned with great surprise of the statements of the Police Chief published by the communications media. In those statements he says “… of the attorneys of the so-called Church Committee, of whom it is known that they respond to precise instructions from the Communist Party…”. The Bishops hope that through the appropriate channels proof will be offered to justify such a serious statement. In the meantime, it cannot disguise its concern at such an act. Once again, to refute an accusation, another is made, and a very serious one, and we are willing to hold a dialogue to clarify matters with those responsible, within the framework of respect that is owed to persons and institutions.
8. With respect to freedom of expression and dissemination of thought, it can be stated that it remains seriously restricted. As a result of the return of political exiles, attacks on the communications media have intensified. Several radio stations have been silenced with respect to news concerning the opposition. The chief opposition newspaper, ABC Color, was closed by Resolution Nº 227 of the Ministry of the Interior on March 22, 1984.
The closing of ABC Color prompted to an IACHR resolution, adopted in the course of its sixty-second session, a resolution which is published elsewhere in this report.
Prior to the closing of the above-mentioned newspaper, its director, Aldo Zuccolillo, had been detained and was then released under surveillance.
On the other hand, according to information received by the Commission, other opposition newspapers find it difficult to obtain foreign exchange to import newsprint.
The journalists of these newspapers have also been regularly harassed by the national police, which frequently summons them to appear “to deal with matters of which you will be advised.” In some cases, as in that of journalist Alcibiades González del Valle, this has led to incommunicado detention.
In June of 1984, the Minister of the Interior, invoking internal security reasons, prohibited publication of the Suplemento Educacional. A few weeks earlier, the Minister had prohibited publication of Extra Deportivo, which was published by journalists who had been working for the ABC Color newspapers.
The Archbishop of Asunción, Monsignor Ismael Rolon, in a document circulated on August 2, 1984, demanded freedom of expression and dissemination of thought in the country. In that document, the Archbishop emphasizes the importance of the truth being known by all, the role of collective information, and the constitutional and legal norms that guarantee freedom of expression and dissemination of thought.
9. The Commission considers that, in general terms, there is freedom of religion and worship in Paraguay at this time. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church is at this time the object of serious attacks on its highest representatives. Monsignor Rolon, Archbishop of Asunción, has been constantly attacked for having criticized the closing of the ABC Color newspaper in a Sunday homily.
On April 16, 1984, through a document which was read in all of the churches, the Catholic Church denounced an unusual campaign of violence carried out against it in newspapers and certain broadcasting stations.
The relevant part of the document states:
Citizens and the general public are confused by this unusual campaign of violence carried out by the press and radio. The work of the Church has been attacked with an absolute lack of respect for truth and justice. The Archbishop of Asunción and other members of the clergy have been insulted. In addition, this campaign seeks to contradict the teachings of the Pope and the honorable Monsignor Juan Sinforiano Bogarin with the sermons and testimony of our priests. On behalf of its priests and the secular and regular clergy, the Episcopal Council of the Archbishopric deplores this campaign of confusion and rejects the insults and defamation propagated against the Church. It also expresses its firm and filial support to Monsignor Ismael Rolon, to the Church hierarchy, and affirms its decision to dedicate all its efforts to the evangelization of our people.
10. With respect to the right to freedom of movement and residence, in an apparent political opening, the Government of Paraguay allowed opposition political leaders who had been in exile for 20 years or more to return to the country. Under the protection of this Decree, Dr. Miguel Angel González Casabianca, leader of the Movimiento Popular Colorado (MOPOCO), Hermes Rafael Saguier, of the Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico, as well as other distinguished Paraguayan politicians, returned to the country, including Antonio González Prieto, Mario Paredes, Mario Mallorquin, Juan A. Arana, Silvestre Gómez Rolon, Andrés Gómez Galeano, Guido Arce Bazan and others.
However, this government decision expressly excluded Messrs. Domingo Laino, President of the Liberal Radical Auténtico Party, Luis Alfonso Resck, President of the Christian Democratic Party and Augusto Roa Bastos, a well-known Paraguayan politician and writer.
The exiles returned pursuant to a government guarantee that they could return without restriction on their political and personal activities, and that they could move freely within the country, as well as leave and return to the country at will.
This guarantee was repeated in January 1984 by the Police Chief of the capital in an interview held with Mr. Waldino Ramón Lovera, member of MOPOCO.
Despite this, the exiles who returned, according to statements made by some of them to the Commission, are kept under strict police surveillance, which not only makes political activity difficult but also impedes the exercise of personal activities that are necessary to earn a living, for the deliberate purpose, it was said, to force them back into exile.
On the other hand, and still with respect to freedom of residence and movement, the Commission should note that the Government of Paraguay, in response to recommendations made by the IACHR, gave a passport to Mrs. Ligia Prieto de Centurion, who had previously been denied this document.
This contrasts with the situation of Mrs. Rafaela Guanes de Laino, to whom the authorities refused to issue a passport, thus impeding the possibility of her traveling abroad to visit her husband, Dr. Domingo Laino, who as stated earlier may not return to the country by decision of the Executive.
11. With respect to political rights, it should be noted that on August 14, 1984, through a number of ceremonies, the thirtieth anniversary of the coming to power of General Alfredo Stroessner was celebrated, who became President of the Republic in elections that were held on July 11, 1954.
Since then, General Stroessner has been reelected for consecutive five-year periods in elections that have been held in 1958, 1963, 1968, 1973, 1978, and in February of 1984.
The Colorado Party candidate, General Stroessner, received 90.6% of the votes cast.
These elections, like prior ones, have been described by the opposition as irregular and fraudulent. Even though the state of siege, which has been permanently applied in the country since 1954, is lifted for election day, the ongoing enforcement of the state of exception and of Laws 209 and 294 means that the electoral process takes place in a climate of fear, anxiety and insecurity, in which the political forces of the country cannot mobilize with the necessary freedom to compete with the candidate of the government party, especially since the chief opposition leaders are in jail or in exile.
In 1978, a coalition of political parties was formed, called the National Agreement, made up of the Authentic Liberal Radical Party, the Christian Democratic Party, the Febrero Revolutionary Party, and the Popular Colorado Movement (MOPOCO), a splinter group of the Colorado Party in power. The government has systematically refused to recognize this group, and has not allowed the Christian Democratic Party, the Authentic Liberal Radical Party or the Popular Colorado Movement (MOPOCO), which it accuses of being a terrorist group, to engage in political activity.
The political leaders of the National Agreement who remained in exile and who began to return to the country in December of 1983 began their political reorganization activities in their respective parties, and worked to consolidate the coalition, being in agreement on working toward democracy in the country, and they called for a national dialogue which evoked no response from the government party, although according to information obtained by the Commission, some members of the Chamber of Deputies who belong to the government party have advocated dialogue.
On August 14, 1984, following a meeting of the member organizations of the National Agreement, the bases of that organization’s program were made known, which included political, social and economic objectives, as well as policy on international affairs and the armed forces. It calls for an independent judiciary, elimination of the government monopoly on the mass communications media, a new electoral law, and drafting of a political parties law with the participation of all the country’s political forces. The document published at that time also requested the lifting of the state of siege, repeal of Laws 209 and 294 and full observance and protection of human rights.
The Government has reacted negatively to any proposal for an opening or dialogue, and has consistently put pressure on the member parties of the National Agreement. In January 1984, the director of Radio Ñanduti, Humberto Rubin, was summoned to appear before Mr. Angel Barbosa, director of the National Telecommunications Administration (ANTELECO), who prohibited him from continuing to broadcast news concerning groups that were not authorized political parties.
On August 2, 1984, the Minister of the Interior, Dr. Sabino Augusto Montanaro, in a speech titled “Irregular and Subversive Groups” referred to the Christian Democratic Party, the Authentic Radical Liberal Party and the Popular Colorado Movement (MOPOCO) as irregular groups acting outside the law and violating the Constitution and laws of the country.
According to the statement made by Minister Montanaro, the Government only recognizes as political parties allowed to operate in the country the Colorado Party now in power, the Radical Liberal Party, the Liberal Party and the Febrero Revolutionary Party (member of the National Agreement, which does not participate in the elections).
The Government thus hinders the party organizations that oppose it. The Party leaders are constantly under surveillance by authorities and are sometimes mistreated and detained, as is the case of Mario Melgarejo, Ruben Veron and Celso Castillo, who were imprisoned on May 11, 1984 and released on June 6 of the same year.
12. In studying the development of the situation of human rights in Paraguay after the Commission’s report of 1978, the IACHR cannot avoid the conclusion that there has been some modest progress in Paraguay in some fields, but such progress has come about as a voluntary concession by the Government to the citizens as it sees fit at various times in the country’s life. There have been no institutional changes that would make it possible to conclude that there has been any real change in attitude by the Government. On the contrary, it persists in enforcing the legal and constitutional provisions that place the country in a real and permanent state of exception, since the enforcement of those provisions nullifies the other provisions of the Constitution and the laws that uphold human rights and establish mechanisms to guarantee them.
Nevertheless, the IACHR recognizes that during the period covered by this report the Government has made some statements that might be described as positive, and they encourage the Commission to hope that the Government of Paraguay is taking steps toward positions that would represent progress in the observance of human rights.
Finally, the Commission wishes to point out that in August 1977, the Government of Paraguay gave its consent to the Commission to carry out an in loco visit to that country. Since then, the Commission has requested that the Government set a date for such a visit, but it has not yet done so. At this time, the IACHR reiterates once again its request for such a visit, and hopes that the Government of Paraguay will respond to it in the near future.