University of Minnesota

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).




The factors presented in this report have led the Commission to form the following conclusions.

1. The Commission considers that excessive predominance of the executive branch over the other two branches of the government—especially the judicial—is granted in the political structure of the Paraguayan government as regulated by the current Constitution. This has meant in practice that the judiciary is deprived of the quintessential independence needed to perform its duties of protecting the rights of the citizens.

2. In the sphere of government political structure as well, the survey in this report has permitted the Commission to realize that the system of proportional representation postulated by the Constitution to fill the positions of senators and deputies, as well as those of the electoral bodies, has been gravely distorted by the regulations contained in the Electoral Statute, Law Nº 886/81. Those regulations have enabled a single party—the Partido Colorado—to control the entire legislative and electoral processes, thus depriving the electorate of the requisite institutional controls to guarantee genuine and fair elections.

3. That system of concentrated authority in the executive branch and in the Government party allows the President—who is also the honorary head of the Partido Colorado, a General on active duty, and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces—in practice to process an array of faculties equivalent to the sum total of public powers. The constitutional amendment permitting presidential reelection has led to a veritable perpetuation in power of the current President, to the detriment of the basic tenets of the democratic and representative system of government. This is complemented by the lack of both legal and political responsibility on the part of the President for possible illegal actions committed during his mandate, thus endowing a well protected institutional supremacy with personal immunity.

4. Even the rights recognized in the Paraguayan Constitution have been seriously impaired in practice through abuse of the state of siege, which was permanently in force in Paraguay until April 1987. The state of siege has been used for clearly political objectives and as a means of sidetracking the Government’s opponents and silencing any persons or groups who criticize it. The state of siege was moreover decreed without the requisite existence of any of the situations established by the Constitution for its proclamation. The Commission notes the fact that martial law has not been reinstated since last April, and hopes that it will not again be imposed.

5. In respect to the right of life, the Commission finds that during the period covered by this report, the number of violations by the Government of Paraguay has declined, and the losses of lives reported can be attributed to a lack of police control rather than a Government political objective. As to the right to physical integrity, the Commission has concluded that Paraguayan civil servants have systematically mistreated, and even tortured, both political detainees and common criminals.

6. The practice of maltreatment and torture must be definitively abolished restoring the judicial guarantees established in the Constitution, which the judiciary has declared to be inapplicable under the state of siege. The Commission finds this concept of Paraguay’s judicial power to be clearly incompatible with the international system for protection of human rights, since it leaves individuals at the mercy of the officials who have deprived them of their freedom.

7. In regard to personal liberty, the Commission considers that the lack of legal recourse available to individuals and the absence of an impartial and independent judiciary has allowed the Paraguayan Government to abuse this rights. The Commission finds the situation of Captain Napoléon Ortigoza to be especially distressing. At present in prison, he has been kept incommunicado for so long that he may be said to have been subjected to inhumane treatment. The release of Sergeant Escolástico Ovando, on the other hand, merits comment, although the Commission cannot fail to point out that he was deprived of freedom for seven years after serving his sentence.

8. In the opinion of the Commission, the Government of Paraguay has also seriously abused the right to personal freedom of its political opponents, whom it has systematically detained for varying periods of time, combining these measures with overt harassment to prevent the legitimate exercise of their political rights.

9. The Government’s opprobrious practice in the area of personal freedom was complemented by an equally reprehensible approach to the right of residence and movement, for the authorities have expelled from the country—or sentenced to internal exile—persons who exercised their right to disagree with it. The Commission finds it positive that the Government has modified that attitude and allowed all of the exiles to return. The Commission hopes that this situation will be completed granting the returnees all of the faculties enabling them to conduct their personal and political lives without impediment on the part of the Government agents.

10. The Commission finds that, in the area of freedom of thought and expression, the Government of Paraguay must drastically and immediately amend its conduct to conform to international standards. The legal system governing mass communications media, in addition to the recourse used by the Government against them, has allowed the right to freedom of thought and expression to be seriously violated in Paraguay. The closing of the ABC Color newspaper must be rescinded as soon as possible and Radio Ñandutí should again be allowed to broadcast. This is an area of social activity which the Commission finds it vital to protect and strengthen if a truly democratic system is to exist.

11. The Commission’s study of trade union rights led to the conclusion that workers must be permitted full exercise of those rights. The Government has the obligation to accept and promote the existence of an independent trade union movement, and must discontinue its practice of controlling that movement. The harassment and repression of leaders of independent groups must also cease.

12. The Commission hopes that the initial steps taken by the Government in the area of political rights may end in radical modification of the deplorable plight that has befallen the exercise of such rights. The discussion in that chapter showed that the Government had used a combination of coercive measures—such as harassment and exile of its opponents and the absence of effective controls that guarantee genuine and fair elections—to reduce the exercise of political rights to a meaningless ritual. These have been compounded by the flouting of the liberties and guarantees that are inherent in a democratic system of government, such as freedom of expression and association.

13. The Commission shall continue to observe steps the Government has taken in lifting the state of siege and allowing all exiles to return. The Commission hopes that these measures will be complemented by proscriptions; grant its political opponents faculties enabling them to perform their democratic role; allow broader freedom of expression; and restore the independence of the judiciary and the guarantees that safeguard individual liberty and integrity.

The Commission believes that adoption of these measures will restore the essence and meaning of democratic organization that is embodied in the Paraguayan Constitution and posited by inter-American documents as the system that offers the most effective guarantees for the protection of human rights in the hemisphere.


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