The government took some steps to fulfil promises on human rights and strengthen institutions, but failed to deliver on key promises regarding land reform and Indigenous Peoples’ rights. There were reports of police ill-treatment in some rural areas. There were some developments in bringing to justice those responsible for past human rights abuses.
Steps were taken to strengthen the institutional framework for human rights protection within the executive, but clear indications of how these would be reflected in the operation of the legislature or judiciary were lacking. Concerns remained about the effectiveness of key bodies such as the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and the Paraguayan Indigenous Institute.
Violence attributed to the Army of the Paraguayan People armed group, including the kidnapping of landowner Fidel Zavala in October, resulted in security concerns in some areas.
In May the government announced a state of emergency across western departments of Paraguay following a serious drought that led to food security problems among Indigenous and campesino (peasant farmer) communities.
Indigenous Peoples’ rights
While the authorities took some steps to ensure the provision of basic services to Indigenous communities, they failed to address Indigenous Peoples’ land claims, tackle discrimination or monitor effectively the use of members of Indigenous communities as forced labour in remote areas.
In October, the Senate rejected a bill to expropriate the traditional lands of the Yakye Axa community from their current owners and return them to the community, despite an overdue deadline for the implementation of an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling ordering the return of the lands. No substantive progress was made in returning land to the Sawhoyamaxa community, in line with a 2006 Inter-American Court ruling. A third case, relating to the Xákmok Kásek community, was pending before the Inter-American Court at the end of 2009.
In November, the Senate Human Rights Commission apparently supported the eviction of around 150 Ava Guaraní families from their traditional lands in the Itakyry district. The eviction order was cancelled later that month after a public outcry. Community members reported being sprayed subsequently with apparently toxic pesticides from a small airplane. This was confirmed by a Health Ministry report. More than 200 people were reportedly affected and several required hospital treatment.
There were reports that pesticides were used near Indigenous communities, in violation of national regulations. The Paraguayan Indigenous Institute linked the death of 12 Mbyá Guaraní Indigenous people between June and August 2009 in the Aba’í District of the Caazapá department to possible contamination from pesticides used on neighbouring wheat and soya crops.
The deteriorating living conditions endured by some landless communities, coupled with inadequate access to essential services, led to serious health problems and preventable deaths. In early 2009, six members of the Sawhoyamaxa Indigenous community died after suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting.
Despite government promises, deforestation in the northern Chaco continued, further endangering the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode Indigenous Peoples living in the area.
A UN study published in March highlighted the widespread violation of labour rights suffered by Indigenous Peoples in the Chaco region, and the continued use of forced and child labour on ranches.
Campesino groups continued to demand a land reform process that would address their needs. Some groups carried out demonstrations, road blocks and occupations in support of their demands. A number of people were killed or injured in the context of land disputes and during law enforcement activities.
- In May, the body of 30-year-old campesino leader Enrique Brítez Irala was found hanging from a tree in the La Fortuna Agroganadera in the Jejuí colony, Choré district, San Pedro department. He had been involved in a dispute with a local landowner. Campesino groups reported that Enriquez Brítez Irala, who went missing three days before his body was found, had been tortured and claimed suggestions he had committed suicide were false. Investigations were under way at the end of the year.
Police and security forces
Police officers were accused of injuring dozens of people during a raid on a campesino encampment in the Toro Blanco neighbourhood of Caaguazú. The officers were looking for those suspected of involvement in an assault on nearby commercial premises in July. Around 50 people were subsequently detained and charged with resisting arrest and public order offences. They were awaiting trial at the end of the year.
Some significant progress was made in bringing to justice some high-profile perpetrators of human rights abuses during the military government of General Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989). By the end of 2009, some 13,700 applications for reparations had been made to the Ombudsman after modifications to legislation on compensation were made in 2008. In October, the Defence Minister authorized the unsealing of files dating from the military regime, giving human rights activists investigating human rights violations during this period access to this information for the first time.
- In May, Sabino Augusto Montanaro, Interior Minister between 1968 and 1989, was arrested after voluntarily returning to Paraguay from exile in Honduras. He faced trial for a series of human rights violations including crimes allegedly committed as part of Operation Condor, a joint plan by Southern Cone military governments in the 1970s and 1980s to eliminate opponents.
- In August, a judge ordered the extradition of Norberto Bianco, an army doctor at the Campo de Mayo military hospital, to Argentina to face trial for his alleged role in the illegal detention of more than 30 women and the subsequent appropriation of their children in 1977 and 1978. He was awaiting extradition at the end of the year.
- In June, former diplomat Francisco Ortiz Téllez was arrested in connection with the enforced disappearance of Agustín Goiburú, a leading opponent of the Stroessner government, in 1977. Francisco Ortiz Téllez was under house arrest at the end of the year awaiting the outcome of his appeal.
Amnesty International visit/report
- Amnesty International delegates visited Paraguay in March and met with President Lugo and other officials.
- ”We´re only asking for what is ours” – Indigenous Peoples in Paraguay