The Truth and Justice Commission published its report and recommendations, shedding light on human rights violations committed during the military government (1954-1989) and transition to democracy. Indigenous Peoples demanded government action to address continuing discrimination and poverty. Both Indigenous Peoples and campesinos (peasant farmers) voiced demands for the resolution of their land claims. Excessive use of force by police and armed civilian patrols was reported, including during disputes over land.
In August, Fernando Lugo took office amid high expectations that his election marked a turning point in respect for human rights in Paraguay. President Lugo made a public apology to the victims of human rights violations under the military government of General Alfredo Stroessner, the first such statement by a Paraguayan head of state. However, he stopped short of accepting state responsibility for the violations. By the end of the year, a clear strategy for implementing electoral promises on land reform and addressing the many issues faced by Indigenous Peoples had yet to be set out.
Between August and the end of the year, Paraguay ratified several key international human rights treaties.
"Deforestation, soya plantations and the use of agro-chemicals continued to affect the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples..."
Indigenous Peoples’ rights
The first National Survey of Indigenous Households conducted between May and June documented wide socio-economic disparities between Paraguay’s Indigenous Peoples and the rest of the population. For example, it found that the illiteracy rate was nearly eight times higher among Indigenous Peoples (40.2 per cent) and that the average monthly income for Indigenous workers was less than two-thirds that of the rest of the population.
An official report published in September used government information to demonstrate that between 1989 and 2003, 19.3 per cent of Paraguay’s land had been illegally allocated, favouring the allies of the former president, Alfredo Stroessner.
- Paraguay failed to comply with an order of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to return traditional territory to the Yakye Axa Indigenous community by the time the deadline expired in July. In November, President Lugo signed a bill to expropriate these lands; the bill was awaiting discussion in Congress at the end of the year.
Deforestation, soya plantations and the use of agro-chemicals continued to affect the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples and campesinos. Government controls failed to halt deforestation by private companies and individuals. Officials estimated that 130,000 hectares of forest were being destroyed annually.
Torture and excessive use of force
Police used torture and excessive force during protests and during attacks against Paraguay’s campesino population engaged in land claims.
- In July, a group of approximately 65 campesinos camped near privately-owned land to which they believed they had a claim were attacked by police. The police raid in the town of San José, district of Horqueta, Concepción department, involved some 300 officials. Police reportedly opened fire on the camp, forcing the campesinos to lie face down on the floor. Police reportedly trod on them, beat them and threatened to burn them alive. Some campesinos were forced to eat earth by officers who taunted them that this was the quickest way that they would be able to own their own land. Several police also urinated on the campesinos.
- In August a peaceful demonstration by approximately 60 people from the city of Villeta was violently broken up by approximately 25 riot police. The protesters were opposing the illegal dumping of rubbish less than 100m from their homes. Police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators, beat them with truncheons and kicked them. Eleven members of the community, including a pregnant woman, sustained injuries as a result.
- In December a presidential decree derogated a 2003 law that had allowed the creation of armed civilian patrols of “Neighbourhood Security Commissions”. Many of these groups had been involved in violence and threats against campesino and Indigenous groups in isolated areas of the country.
Nearly five years after it was established by law, the Truth and Justice Commission presented its conclusions and recommendations to the state in August. The Commission’s final report was released publicly at the end of 2008.
The Commission’s conclusions identified 20,090 direct victims of human rights violations during the period under investigation. These included 19,862 victims of arbitrary or illegal detention, 18,772 victims of torture, 59 victims of extrajudicial execution and 336 victims of enforced disappearance.
The Commission recommended that the Public Prosecutor and Procurator General investigate all cases further. It found that sexual violence had been employed as a repressive strategy, identifying cases of rape and sexual abuse by military and police officers committed against girls aged between 12 and 15. Through witness testimony, the Commission investigated violence against children, particularly in campesino communities. It also concluded that systematic and generalized violations against the Aché Indigenous Peoples in the 1970s may constitute a crime against humanity. The Commission investigated two cases related to sexual identity, but cited a lack of reliable evidence of wider repression against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population.
A new law passed in September enabled victims of detention on political grounds between 1954 and 1989 to seek reparations; those who were tortured or disappeared during that time were already eligible for reparations.