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Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Paraguay, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.71, Doc. 19 rev. 1 (1987).


 

 

CHAPTER II

THE RIGHT TO LIFE AND PERSONAL SECURITY

A. GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS

In this chapter, the Commission will examine the right to life and its corollary, the right to personal security. After quoting the Paraguayan laws governing these areas, the Commission will specifically address the right to life, the problem of the disappearances in Paraguay and, finally, the practice of torture, in that order.

The Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, an international instrument that is applicable to Paraguay states the following in Article I:

Article I. Every human being has the right to life, liberty and the security of his person.

The succinct nature of this statement in the American Declaration makes it necessary to spell out certain factors needed for accurate assessment of the various elements involved in such important rights as life and personal security. To this end, the commission will draw on the pertinent doctrines derived from the American Convention on Human Rights. Although this instrument is not applicable to–since it has not been ratified by–Paraguay, the Commission considers it to be the most widely accepted doctrine in the Americas in the field of human rights.

The right to life is enshrined by the Convention in Article 4, which states that it must be protected by law “in general” from the moment of conception. It also states that no one should be arbitrarily deprived life. The same article establishes various restrictions on application of the death penalty, stipulating that it should not applied in the case of political offenses or related common crimes.

The right to personal security is acknowledged by the Convention in Article 5, where it is defined in broad terms in order to encompass the physical, mental and moral aspects of the individual. This article prohibits the application of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment. Article 5 also deals with regulation of the way sentences depriving the accused of liberty must be carried out to avoid violating the right to personal security.

The Constitution of the Republic of Paraguay addresses the matter in these terms:

Article 50. Every person has the right to protection by the state in respect to his life, his physical integrity, his freedom, his security, his property, his honor and his reputation.

Article 65. In no case shall the death penalty be applied for political reasons. Confiscation of property is not permitted. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel or inhuman treatment. Penal institutions must be adequate to the purpose, healthful, and clean, and shall be designed to rehabilitate the confined person by means of a complete program that shall be determine by law.

B. THE GOVERNMENT’S PRACTICE

Capital punishment for political crimes does not exist in Paraguay, and few flagrant violations of the right to life have been documented during the period covered by this report.

The best known case (No. 6812) in recent years occurred in March 1980 in Caaguazú, where a group of 20 campesinos from Acaray-í, in the Alto Paraná, took over a bus in the mountains and drove it to Asunción to protest in regard to agrarian disputes. Some of these peasants carried old firearms. When the bus neared the village of Campo 8 in the Caaguazú Department, the police opened fire on it, forcing it to stop. The area was then closed off by the police and the campesinos were pursued as far as the village of Guyrua-guá. On March 10, ten of those who had taken part in the bus highjacking were killed.

The Government responded by alleging that the persons involved were common criminals and that the death had occurred in a shoot-out with the authorities. But the bodies were never turned over to the families, and no death certificates were ever issued. The tem who died were: Adolfo Cesar Brítez, Gumersindo Brítez Coronel, Fulgencio Gutiérrez, Mario Ruiz Díaz, Secundino Segovia Brítez, Estanislao Sotelo, and Feliciano Verdún.

The Commission considers that an incident as serious as this–in which the police prevent anyone who might later serve as a witness from entering the area, and the Government later acknowledged the death of ten persons, but fails to produce the bodies or to issue any document substantiating its statement that they died in a shoot-out–points to clear responsibility of the Government in the death of the ten campesinos. The procedure described also suggests that it is designed to create an atmosphere of terror in the population, thus preventing the recurrence of this sort of incident. That terror is heightened by another factor which emerges from the event: the impunity granted by the authorities to the perpetrators of the deaths.

This incident was followed by mass detention of some 200 to 300 campesinos. Further reference to this case will be found in the section on torture in this chapter. For the moment, suffice it to say that one of the persons detained in the raid, Marcelino Casco, died in a police hospital after reportedly being forced to stand in the sun for hours on end and, later, beaten on the shoulders and head and made to run up and down some stairs. Casco was more than 70 years old.

Another of those arrested in the Gaaguzú raid, Leonidas Bogado de González, died of cancer during his detention. He was denied proper medical care. He was 50 years old.

A further case involving the right to life is that of Carlos Bogarín who was arrested together with other young people in the city of Puerto Presidente Stroessner, Alto Paraná Department on the night of August 8, 1983 on suspicion of having taken part in an automobile theft.

One hour after his arrest, the family of the young man, age 23, was notified of his death and told that they could pick up his body at the morgue in Hermandarias, his birthplace. Eulalio Rojas, another suspect who was arrested at the same time as Bogarin, was taken to the Asunción hospital in serious condition. His body was so covered with wounds and bruises that he could not eat or urinate. The suggestion of Government responsibility for the death of Bogarín is enhanced by the fact that there was never an official document certifying his death, nor were any details given as to its causes. Neither were independent persons allowed to verify such causes.

The upshot of these abuses of police authority was the arrest of ten officers who admitted having beaten Bogarín Rojas and the other detainees upon instructions from the Chief Inspector. The charges against the police, however, were eventually withdrawn.

A more recent case (No. 9714) involving the right to life is that of Rodolfo González, a law student at the National University who died on April 10, 1986.

Pertinent portions of the complaint received about this case and sent to the Government on May 9, 1986 appear below:

At these times of labor union, student and political demonstrations, manifestations, strikes and parades, we wish to report the murder by police authorities of a young student at the School of Law, RODOLFO GONZALEZ, whose death on April 10, 1986 has been shrouded in mystery and false allegations by the police. To the point were, as reported to the press when his death was made public, they said that he had die as a result of injuries received in a traffic accident, whereas the truth according to any autopsy, is that a 22 caliber bullet was lodged in his cranium, and the body bore another bullet wound as well as signs of torture. It was for this reason that the authorities themselves, using the pretext of the doctors’ and nurses’ strike at the Hospital de Clínicas, a few days later arrested the doctor who had performed the post mortem on the body of student González, Dr. José Bellassi, in order to intimidate him.

We demand the immediate release of this well known physician, and on investigation and punishment of those responsible for the death of our schoolmate, González.

The response of the Government of Paraguay, dated June 2, 1986, was simply this: Case No. 9714, Rodolfo González, Preliminary hearing assigned to the Judge of the First Instance in criminal proceedings, Dr. César Garay.

Other reported cases of violations of the right to live include the death in July 1985 of a sailor while detained by the police, supposedly because his firearm went off by accident. His corpse, however, bore traces of torture, and his parents’ efforts to have the matter investigated were to no avail.

Also in July of that year, a man suspected of theft died in Concepción, in an alleged attempt to escape. Two policemen have been accused in this matter, but the results are not known.

Earlier that year, in February, a police commissioner and two officers were accused of murdering a common criminal, Pablo Martínez Díaz, who was being held by the police (Case No. 9500). In their defense, the police alleged that the inmate had committed suicide by hanging himself. But the inquest showed that the victim had died of a serious head injury. The judge in this case ordered preventive detention of the three police officers on September 10, and two of them were later sent to prison in 1986.

In the middle of July 1986 a large group of campesino families from the Juan E. O’Leary District in the Department of Caaguazú invaded part of the Englewart ranch, consisting of 2,800 hectares owned by Mr. Humberto Englewart.

On July 11 of that year, two of them died of gunshot wounds when the police evicted the invaders. They were Francisco Martínez, 21, and Aurelio Silvero, 24. When asked about this, the Government replied that the shots had been accidental, and that the policemen had been indicted pursuant to the law. The result of such indictment has not been reported to the Commission.

On August 4, Judge Farias ordered the withdrawal of the squatters and the arrest of five men: Raimundo Espinola, Ramón Rolón, Bruno Galarza, Carmelo Araujo, and Epifanio Riveros, who were accused of assault, trespassing, rustling, and threat of homicide.

On Saturday, August 23 at 1.30 p.m. hundreds of soldiers and police cordoned off the area. One hour later, some 50 persons surrendered and were given bus tickets to leave the area. About two hundred remained, but at midnight they agreed to withdraw as well. Ten of them were arrested and the others received safe conduct passes to leave the ranch. The remaining ten were removed from the site.

Later on, other arrests involved 20 of the people who had been taken to an area of the Englewart ranch and tied to orange trees, where they spent the night. In the next few days a number of them were set free, while others remained tied to the trees for four days.

According to allegations reported to the Commission, during their detention those individuals were repeatedly submitted to the following forms of torture: beating administered by soldiers and police with the use of clubs, bludgeons, sticks and their feet. Later they were all released except for the following five: Silvino Rolón, Fermín Cabanes, Ramón Rolón, Raimundo Espinola Brites, and Domingo Cornelio de Guerrero.

The Government maintains that those individuals were accused of trespassing on private property, willful damage, theft and rustling, and that they were held in the Tacumbú penitentiary in Asunción while awaiting trial.

C. DISAPPEARANCES

During the period to which this report is confined, a number of Paraguayan citizens disappeared. Since such disappearances almost always that the victims have been murdered and the corpses secretly disposed of, the study of this topic is a logical part of this chapter on the right to life. It should also be noted that most of the cases of Paraguayans who disappeared occurred prior to 1980, and this has no longer been common practice in the country in recent years.

The disappearances of Paraguayans are divided into at least three categories. This first is the classic case in which the victims are arrested by individuals in civilian dress, and are simply never seen again.

The second consists of those who have been openly arrested, held, and then disappear from all official records of the authorities who conducted the arrests. They are taken from ordinary jails and prisons and all traces of them are lost. Every inquiry as to their whereabouts meets with silence, surprise, or official denial that the victims had ever been arrested.

The last category comprises Paraguayan citizens who disappeared in Argentina during the recent military dictatorship in that country. In some cases, the Paraguayan victims were expelled from their country by its authorities, and then disappeared after reaching Argentina.

A list appears below of the Paraguayans who have disappeared in Paraguay. Most of these missing persons were apprehended before 1978. The Commission nevertheless insists that the Government of Paraguay has an open-ended obligation to investigate and report on these cases and call to account those responsible for such acts, which the OAS General Assembly terms “crimes against humanity.” The Commission also wishes to state for the record that it has not been informed of any new disappearances since 1979.

Data supplied to the IACHR by different sources, including the World Council of Churches, made it possible to compile the following list of persons detained in Paraguay who have disappeared:

Name
Date of Arrest
Site
Bienvenido Arguello
12 May 1978

Clorinda, Argentina

Américo Villagra

November 1975

Clorinda, Argentina

Martín Ramírez Blanco

1976

Asunción DIPC

Martín Rolón

4 April 1975

 
Diego Rodas

14 April 1976

San Juan (Misiones)

Adolfo López

13 May 1976

San Juan (Misiones)

Elixto López

13 May 1976

San Juan (Misiones)

Francisco López

13 May 1976

San Juan (Misiones)

Policardo López

13 May 1976

San Juan (Misiones)

Ramón Pintos

May 1976

 
Rubén González Acosta

December 1975

Acaray (Alto Paraná)
Rodolfo Ramírez Villalba

November 1974

 
Benjamín Ramírez Villalba

November 1974

Asunción DIPC

Miguel Angel Soler

30 November 1975

Asunción DIPC

Derlis Villagra
 
Amilcar Oviedo

15 November 1974

 
Carlos José Mancuello

25 November 1974

Asunción

Lorenzo López

9 April 1970

 
Darío Goni Martínez

17 April 1979

 
Faustina Torres de Quintana
10 May 1970
 

 

In its observations the Government of Paraguay indicated the following with respect to the above mentioned list:

1. Bienvenido Argeullo and Américo Villagra: Resided in Clorinda in Argentina and the Government of Paraguay had nothing to do with their alleged disappearance.

2. Martín Gamírez Blanco: Was released and crossed over to Brazil by way of the Port of President Stroessner, together with Rodolfo and Benjamín Ramírez Villalba, Amílcar Oviedo and Carlos José Mancuello.

3. Martín Rolón Centurión: Died the morning of April 4, 1976, in a shoot out with police at Valle Apua, a southern suburb of Asunción. His death was published in the newspapers and his cadaver was turned over to family members.

4. Diego Rodas and Adolfo, Elixto, Francisco and Policarpo López and Ramón Pinto: All belonged to a subversive organization called the Political-Ministry Organization (OPM). On being pursued they left Villa Florida in canoes down the Tebicuary River to its mouth whereupon they fled to Argentina.

5. Octavio Rubén González Acosta and Lorenzo López: Currently wanted. Notices have been published in Asunción newspaper, Hoy, to either turn themselves in personally or through their legal representatives to participate in a legal proceeding called a ‘Declaration of Absence, with the presumption of death’ which is pending before the Court of First Instance in Civil and Commercial Matters of the 6th Circuit, Judge Eduardo Benítez Colombo and Secretary of Mr. Ernesto Velasquez Argaña.

6. Faustina Torres de Quintana: No information available about this case. Totally unknown.

7. Miguel Angel Soler and Derliz Villagra Arzamendra: Secretary General and member of the so-called Communist Party of Paraguay. Both left the country many years ago and never returned.

8. Darío Goñi Martínez: Uruguayan citizen: Deported from the country with a Lebanese man with the surname of Mesconi in May of 1979.

The Commission, in addition, believes it must point out that the Working Group on Forced or Involuntary Disappearances of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, in its Report dated December 24, 1986 (doc.E/CN.4/1987/15, pp. 38 and 39), indicates that it considered 23 cases of alleged disappearances in Paraguay, of which, as of the date of the Report, only two remained unclassified by the Government.

D. Torture

Police brutality in Paraguay is the rule, and not the exception. In all fairness, however, it must be said that there have been a number of recent instances of police who have been indicted, and at least one case in which a policemen was sentenced to prison for mistreating detainees. This trend is encouraging.

It is interesting to note that these cases coincide with periods of relative freedom of the press, seemingly in response to the pressure of public opinion. Given the restrictions on such freedom (which we will address in greater depth in the pertinent chapter of this report), however, most of the cases of torture and degrading treatment of prisoners really go unreported, and in practice this permits the police to act with impunity.

The matter of police brutality is common. Persons suspected either of common crimes or supposed political infractions, are arrested and submitted in the first or second week of their detention to systematic torture to secure information. The techniques include beating with fists and sticks, kicks, and the use of electric prods, at times accompanied by immersion in the “swimming pool” of filthy water. The prisoner is often forced to stand in the sun for long periods of time without food or water, and incommunicado. At other times his feet are beaten, or he is confined in a small box or crate; or forced to adopt the soc-called “fetus” position for hours on end. The psychological torture includes threats against the victim’s relatives and friends. At least one prisoner was hung by the feet in the so-called “bat” position. Some of the prisoners have had their ankles handcuffed for long periods, restricting their physical movement and exercise. Women prisoners have been subjected to sexual abuse and rape. At least one prisoner has become so desperate as to try to commit suicide. In another recent case, ten campesinos were arrested and forced to walk a great distance in the rain and beaten, or surprisingly, they become seriously ill, with high temperatures, thereafter. There is also the “cicada” position, in which the prisoner is hung by the wrists from a tree, facing the trunk. Another method, called “the horse” consists of tying a very heavy object to the person and forcing him to haul it.

The truth is that Paraguay has a special terminology for torture: “the cattle prod,” “the swimming pool,” “the crate,” “the bat,” “the fetus,” “the cicada,” and “the horse.” A macabre folkloric vocabulary.

Those held in police and military barracks are subjected to extremely poor conditions. Small dark cells await the newly arrested. Medical attention to this stage is almost always denied. In general, once the prisoners have been formally accused they are transferred to ordinary prisons where the overall conditions are better. The maximum security sites are administered by the Ministry of the Interior and those of the Asunción police force–more specifically the department of Investigation–on the other hand, are austere and reserved for opponents accused of political crimes. One of the most infamous is the Guardia de Seguridad, located in the capital. Another is the Comisaría Segunda. Ordinary prisons, however, are inspected periodically by judicial authorities and are accessible to the International Red Cross Committee.

The Commission has received information from various sources that the following persons are among those tortured during the period covered by this report.

VICTIMS OF TORTURE

Name
Date Arrested
Circumstances
Capt. Modesto Napoleón Ortigoza
1962

Sentenced to 25 years of prison for murder and conspiracy to overthrow the President. Beaten by guards in 1983. suffers from severe mental disturbances. Tried to commit suicide.

Sgt. Guillermo Escolástico Ovando
1962
Accused jointly with Capt. Ortigoza. Kept in prison for years after serving the sentence; confession extracted by torture.
Remigio Giménez
Dec. 1978

Arrested in Brazil, turned over to Paraguayan authorities. Tortured. Held 15 months. Again arrested and interrogated in 1971 and brutally beaten.

Virgilio Barreiro
1978

Engineer. Held for long period and tortured

Juan Crisóstomo
1979
Held, beaten, and robbed of property amounting to $3,000.
Angel Austacio Rodríguez
30 May 1980
Arrested and tortured for 3 months; held incommunicado. Later transferred to Tucumbí Nat’l Penitentiary. Sentenced to 3 years of prison pursuant to Law 209.
Andrés Centurión

Luis Centurión

Ramón Paiva Acosta

Eliodoro Gimenez

Mar. 1980
Arrested in connection with bus high-jacking at Caaguazú. Tortured. Went on hunger strike. Continued to be held without trial beyond the legal limits allowed for sentencing.
Hernando Sevilla

1981

Argentine newspaperman. Tortured. Set free on 30 September 1980 after 18 months’ imprisonment without being charged.
Sever Fermín Pastor Giménez
Feb 19
Mason, accused of connections with a Maoist party. Tortured.
Antonio González
Feb. 82
Accused of being Maoist, tortured by the DIPC. Sentenced to four years of prison in June 1984. Given conditional freedom in December 1985.
María Margarita Baez Romero
Feb. 83
Hung from the bars of a window in the sun with a rope tie to handcuffs for six days. Burned and beaten. Tied to a chair at night. Widow of one of the Caaguazú victims, she suffered from headaches and hallucinations as a result.
Eulalio Rojas

8 Aug. 1983

Tortured. Taken to hospital by police where he could not eat or urinate because of blows to the stomach and kidneys.
Enrique Goosen
11 May 1983
Paraguayan Data Bank employee, accused of subversion. Flogged, hooded and submerged in the “swimming pool.”
Roberto Villalba
11 May 1983
Paraguayan Data Bank employee. Flogged on thighs and back. Stripped, tied and put in the “swimming pool.” Had a heart attack.
Rubén Lisboa

11 May 1983

Paraguayan Data Bank employee. Beaten and held incommunicado.
Ferminda Zunilda González
May 1983
Servant, and a mother at 17. Held for 50 days when accused of theft by her employers, for the first 8 days at Asunción Investigation Department, where she was beaten for four days until she signed a confession.
Alba Antonia Rojas Noguera
Feb. 1985
Age 31, mother of three. Accused of theft. Tortured. When transferred from police barracks to “Good Shepherd” women’s prison, had to remain in bed for 8 days to recover from wounds inflicted.
Regina Chaparro
25 May 1986
Maid who claims to have been arbitrarily held and tortured on suspicion of theft. Central police Investigation Department (DIPC) “applied wires to my little fingers. I tried to explain that I hadn’t stolen anything but they kept giving me electric shocks that caused body spasms and contractions.” Set free 5 June, she signed a complaint but her torturers were never indicted.
Brazilian and Paraguayan Colonizers
1986

Implicated in land disputes of Indian campesinos. Mass arrests, beatings. Claims that needles were stuck under prisoners’ fingernails and “the horse” used (individual is harnessed like a pack animal and make to haul extremely heavy objects).

Mby’a Indians
13 Nov 1986

Forced to evacuate privately “Golondrina” ranch in Caaguazu Dept. Indians were threatened with death and a woman was raped.

Quintín González Escobar
25 Apr. 1986
Member of MOPOCO minority party. Detained for 5 days on entering Paraguay from Argentina. Tortured and expelled from country.
Marcelino Corazón Medina
1 May 1986
Repeatedly arrested and tortured in the 70s and 80s. Arrested again this time, he was brutally beaten with sticks by men in civilian clothes, then released.

Repeatedly arrested and tortured in the 70s and 80s. Arrested again this time, he was brutally beaten with sticks by men in civilian clothes, then released.

E. CONCLUSIONS

During the period covered by this report, the Commission has observed a decrease in the number of Paraguay’s violations of the right to life. When they do occur, they stem from excessive abuse of police or military authorities rather than a strategy to eliminate members of the political opposition. Nevertheless there have been cases in which opponents have died without any explanation thus far of the circumstances. The Commission has also been unable to discover what penalties have been imposed on police officers found guilty of violating the right to life.

As to personal security, the survey has enabled the Commission to conclude that torture and maltreatment are routinely applied, both to political opponents and to individuals accused of common crimes. This reprehensible practice of Paraguay’s authorities is made easier by the judiciary’s refusal to process writs of habeas corpus when a state of siege is in effect. The Commission therefore deems it essential that the Government of Paraguay investigate the cases of torture and maltreatment in order to punish the perpetrators in an exemplary way.

With respect to the right of physical integrity, the investigation conducted by the Commission leads it to conclude that torture and abuse are routinely applied, both to political opponents as well as persons accused of common crimes. This contemptible practice by the Paraguayan authorities has further eroded the judiciary’s ability to process writs of habeas corpus under the state of siege. Therefore it is imperative in the view of the Commission that the Government of Paraguay investigate cases of torture and abuse and sanction those responsible as an example to others.

 



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