Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1991

Paraguay, independent since 1811, has been ruled almost
continuously by authoritarian regimes. In early 1989, however,
a new Government committed itself to democracy and respect for
human rights and subsequently took important steps toward those
goals. While the military and the Colorado Party remain the
dominant forces- in the political system of the country,
elections for municipal authorities and constitutional
convention delegates were recognized as free and fair by
international observers.
The police forces, under the overall authority of the Ministry
of Interior, hold the primary responsibility for internal
security and maintaining public order. Credible charges of
police brutality persisted throughout 1991, although less
frequently than in previous years.
Paraguay has a free market economy predominantly oriented
towards the exportation of primary agricultural products. In
1991, the Government continued to advocate economic reforms,
including the privatization of some state-managed businesses.
Principal human rights problems included police torture and
other physical abuse of criminal suspects and prisoners,
violent evictions and arbitrary detentions of squatters, police
corruption, instances of violent assaults on journalists, the
weakness of the judiciary, and restrictions on worker rights.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were a few possible cases of politically motivated murder
in 1991. In February, in Caraguaty, three Colorado Party
members were killed while campaigning before crowds during
mayoral races. On April 26, radio journalist Santiago
Leguizamon was assassinated in the town of Pedro Juan Caballero.
Leguizamon was very vocal in attacking corruption and narcotics
trafficking, including activities linked to corrupt government
officials. According to press reports, hired assassins from
Brazil may have killed Leguizaman, but no arrests have been
made in the case.
Extrajudicial deaths of persons in police custody also were
reported. In January in San Lorenzo, a policeman shot and
killed Juan Desiderio Ortellado Cardozo, 14 years old, for
trespassing. In April the mother of Ruben Dario Isasi claimed
that witnesses saw police detain Isasi for the February rape
and murder of a teenaged girl. Isasi 's body was later pulled
from the Paraguay River. In July in Caapucu, Carlos Niseforo
Garcia was killed in a traffic accident, according to police.
An autopsy later concluded that Garcia had been beaten to
death. There were two cases of police conscripts who were
apparently beaten to death by authorities under unclear
circumstances. In July in the town of Ita Angu'a, Jorge Raul
Martinez died from multiple blows, according to an autopsy.
The local sheriff had claimed Martinez died from food
poisoning. Witnesses accused the sheriff of murdering the
conscript. In September, the deputy sheriff of San Pedro
Department claimed that Jose Librado Peralta threw himself from
a truck while in custody for an alleged robbery. An autopsy
revealed that Peralta had been beaten to death. Peralta's
family claimed that he was killed by the deputy sheriff.
By mid-January 1992, Brazilian authorities had arrested three
suspects allegedly responsible for the murder of Leguizamon.
Paraguayan authorities were working with their Brazilian
counterparts to investigate what may have been a planned
assassination by narcotics traffickers, according to press
      b. Disappearance
There were no reported cases of disappearance by security
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
There were credible reports of police brutality, including
torture, in the treatment of criminal suspects in detention.
There were disturbing reports of mistreatment of women and
minors and attempts to force confessions out of detainees.
Torture and other abusive treatment continued to be the subject
of inquiries by the Justice Ministry, the Supreme Court, and
the Human Rights Committee of the House of Deputies,
demonstrating concern about the issue. Although the Government
consistently condemned the practice of torture and abuse, it
failed to investigate and prosecute the officials implicated in
cases of police brutality.
In January Lucila Alvarez accused police in the Asuncion
neighborhood of Trinidad of beating her in an attempt to force
her to confess to various crimes. A police spokesman denied
the charges and claimed that Alvarez's injuries were caused by
her male companion. Alvarez also charged that one officer
attempted to extort money in exchange for her release. In
March the United Workers Central (CUT) denounced the violent
detention of two union members by police. The complaint
accused the Vallemi police of beating Victor Recalde and
Felipe Jimenez to force their confessions for an alleged
There were credible complaints of abuse of prisoners held in
jails throughout Paraguay, particularly in Tacumbu and Buen
Pastor Prisons. Clandestine detention centers were uncovered
in some sheriff's offices, where witnesses claimed that police
brutality was routine. In April Deputy Sheriff Jaime Roig was
removed from office in Horquesta by the government
representative there due to charges of torture. The press
exposed abuses at the jail in Ciudad del Este, the country's
second largest city. Some local authorities there were
subsequently replaced. Overall, however, executive or judicial
oversight of police and detention facilities was very
Throughout the year security forces dislodged peasant land
occupiers. Peasants detained on judicial orders to protect
private property were often held under nonspecific warrants,
often without prompt judicial processing. While most were
released from custody within a few hours, others were held for
longer periods. Reports also surfaced of landowners taking
justice into their own hands by arming their employees and
aggressively removing sc[uatters from their property without
court orders. Some of the evictions were violent, accompanied
by shots fired into the air, but there were no reports of
fatalities. Some peasants are known to have suffered beatings
during these evictions. Police also have been known to use
tear gas against the squatters and to burn down their
dwellings. Investigations into abuses by landowners are slow.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile.
The Constitution provides for a judicial determination of the
legality of detention. It stipulates that any person arrested
without a warrant must be presented formally before a judge
within 24 hours of his detention and have charges filed against
him within 48 hours. Authorities often violated these
provisions in 1991.
On January 30, security forces detained three members of the
pro-Stroessner faction of the Colorado Party. They attended a
political rally for a Colorado Party candidate for mayor of
Santani and were visiting the candidate in his home when they
were taken into custody. They were released on February 1, In
April three persons waiting for a bus were arrested arbitrarily
by police in Asuncion. They were freed eventually, but were
witnesses to other arbitrary detentions. Some cases of
arbitrary detention are not publicly revealed because of police
Mass arrests of peasant squatters occurred frequently without
the issuance of arrest warrants that specifically named those
to be detained. There were reports of cases of peasants held
indiscriminately who were only released after publicity and
lobbying by interested groups.
Forced exile is no longer used as a means of political control.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Trials are conducted almost exclusively by presentation of
written documents to a judge, who then renders a decision.
Since there is no trial by jury, the judge alone determines
guilt or innocence and decides punishment. During the pretrial
phase, the judge receives and may request investigative
reports. In this phase, the judge is also likely to make a
personal inspection of the scene of the crime and of all
physical evidence available. The accused often appears before
the court only twice: to plead and to hear sentencing. All
judgments are automatically reviewed by an appellate judge, and
the law provides for appeals to the Supreme Court. Court
proceedings in some cases are held in secrecy and any
subsequent press reports are based only on the pubic comment of
the judge or the attorneys.
While nominally independent, the judiciary is subject to
influence by the Executive Branch through the appointment of
judges and control over the judiciary's budget. The Supreme
Court attempted to strengthen judicial independence in 1991 by
removing or suspending 12 judges for various transgressions.
The majority of lower court judges were appointed by the
Stroessner regime which governed the country from 1955 to
1989. There were allegations that some acted arbitrarily, due
to b^ribery or to political motives. Meanwhile, judicial
prosecutions of cases of torture and official corruption dating
from the Stroessner-era moved ahead only slowly if at all.
While a number of well connected figures accused of corruption,
mostly Stroessner-era senior officials, have been prosecuted
and sentenced, other suspected perpetrators of major corruption
remain at large. The belief among some that police and
judicial institutions principally serve those with political,
military, or economic power acts to discourage citizens from
reporting abuses.
The judiciary's inadequate budget and the cumbersome written
trial process, combined with the lack of adequately trained
personnel at all levels, limit the right of an accused to a
fair and speedy trial. The local jails and prisons are filled
with persons awaiting sentencing. More than 90 percent of the
prison population has neither been tried nor sentenced. For
example, according to human rights lawyers, of 1,420 inmates in
Tacumbu prison, only 140 were serving court imposed sentences.
At Emboscada Juvenile Correctional Facility, only 3 inmates out
of 140 have actually received a prison sentence.
Paraguay has no political prisoners.
f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home or
While the Government and the security forces generally do not
interfere in the private lives of citizens, there have been
exceptions. The Constitution protects private homes from
police entry except under the terms of a judicial warrant or to
prevent a crime, but this protection at times was ignored,
especially in the interior of the country.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
In 1991 the Paraguayan press continued to exercise many
freedoms acquired in 1989. However, several incidents occurred
the net impact of which tended to discourage investigative
reporting into certain sensitive areas. Virtually all of the
incidents were related to press efforts to investigate and
report on corruption, contraband, and ties to the former regime.
An assault by soldiers on reporters from the newspaper
ABC Color who were attempting to investigate a clandestine air
strip in Ciudad del Este outraged the media. The murder of
Santiago Leguizamon (see Section l.a.) further underscored
press vulnerabilities to intimidation. A member of the Palace
Guard fired shots at reporters who were photographing the
renovation of Stroessner's former presidential palace, and the
reporters were subsequently detained by military officials.
Calls by military and political figures for a law to regulate
the press were resoundingly rejected by most sectors. Many
journalists felt that calls for a press law were intended to
induce a less independent and energetic press. The sentencing
of radio reporter Victor Benitez to 4 months in prison for
broadcasting an allegedly slanderous and abusive political
comment showed that the scope of public comment was subject to
constraint in the courts. Benitez was, however, released 4
days after his incarceration, after the the complaint was
There were no restrictions on academic freedom in 1991.
However, the universities were involved in consideration of
measures to reform university regulations dating from the
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
In June 1990, Congress passed a law regulating demonstrations
in Asuncion. The law limits the areas where and the hours when
demonstrations may take place. It also requires notice to the
Asuncion police at least 24 hours before any rally in the
downtown area and gives the police the option of banning the
protest. Notification of police opposition to the rally has to
be given in writing to the organizers within 12 hours of
receipt of the organizers' recjuest . Under the law, a police
ban is permitted only if a third party already had given notice
of plans for a similar rally at the same place and time. In
addition, the bill prohibits public meetings or demonstrations
in front of the Presidential Palace and outside military or
police barracks.
In September students from the Hospital de Clinicas marched
peacefully, but without a permit, in downtown Asuncion to
protest increases in the military budget, among other issues.
When the students failed to obey a police order for the crowd
to disperse, the police used their batons to break up the
demonstration. Police prevented a protest by peasants in March
in the town of San Estanislao. Sixty peasants tried to protest
the low price set for cotton and demand comprehensive land
reform. Security forces surrounded the protesters, took their
identification cards, and detained them for several hours.
      c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of conscience for all
persons. The Government continued to respect that freedom in
1991. Roman Catholicism is the predominant and official
religion of Paraguay. All religious denominations are free to
worship as they choose and adherence to a particular creed
confers no advantage or disadvantage. Foreign and local
missionaries proselytized freely.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Paraguayan citizens travel freely within the country with
virtually no restrictions. In 1991 Paraguay opened up travel
to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. There are no
restrictions on travel abroad or on emigration except for those
a husband legally has over travel of his wife and children (see
Section 5).
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
In 1991 Paraguay made significant progress in the transition to
a democratic form of Government. The process is scheduled to
culminate in 1993 with the election of a new president.
Congress continued to assert itself, modifying legislative
proposals of the executive and seeking detailed reports from
executive branch ministries on their expenditures and execution
of policy. Congress successfully overrode two presidential
vetos in September, further demonstrating its growing
independence from the executive. In May Paraguay successfully
held the first free and independent municipal elections in its
history. While the Colorado Party maintained its political
majority, an independent, former union leader Carlos Filizzola,
won the crucial Asuncion mayoralty. On December 1, a
Constituent Assembly was elected in a free and fair election.
The Assembly will draft a new democratic constitution for
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Four major human rights groups operate in Paraguay: the
Committee of Churches (an interdenominational group that
monitors human rights and lends legal assistance), the
Paraguayan Human Rights Commission (which publishes a periodic
newsletter), Prodemos (a group that includes Roman Catholic
Bishop Mario Melanio Medina among its leaders), and the local
chapter of the Association of Latin American Lawyers for the
Defense of Human Rights. Two of Paraguay's leading human
rights activists. Carmen Casco de Lara Castro of the Paraguayan
Human Rights Commission and Francisco Jose de Vargas of the
Committee of Churches, continued to serve as opposition members
of Congress.
In April the Government named its first Director General of
Human Rights, Eric Salum Pires, to supervise, coordinate, and
promote human rights. Located in the Ministry of Justice and
Labor, the Human Rights Office has access to congressional,
executive, and judicial authorities. At year's end, it was
still too early to judge what affect the Office will have in
curtailing human rights abuses.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Paraguay's Constitution and laws bar discrimination based on
race, sex, religion, language, or social status, except for a
restrictive civil code which still limits the rights of married
women. There are significant expatriate Korean and Chinese
communities which experience de facto social and economic
discrimination. Koreans and Chinese are sometimes denied
access to credit terms that are enjoyed by non-Asian
Paraguayans. They are often discriminated against in the
housing market and do not have ec[ual access to private
institutions and schools.
Participation by women in the social and political system is
limited in Paraguay's male-dominated society. There are
several nongovernmental women's organizations which focus
primarily on encouraging civic education and greater
participation in the democratic transition process. Paraguay
is a signatory to the U.N. Convention on the Political Rights
of Women and has instituted, with the United Nations, a human
development program specifically targeted to assist peasant
women. Minister of Public Health Dr. Cynthia Prieto is
Paraguay's first female cabinet minister. The four women
elected to the Asuncion city council and the few elected as
mayors in the interior opened a new era for women's involvement
in politics.
Paraguay's civil code, reformed in 1988 by the Stroessner
government, still discriminates against married women. For
example, the code requires a woman to secure her husband's
permission before she may be employed, gives a husband
ownership of a couple's property, and allows a husband control
over the ability of his wife and children to travel. Violence
against women, such as wife beating, continued to be widespread
in Paraguay. Such abuse is against the law, but the law has
not been well enforced. A Department of the Family within the
Asuncion police force was established in 1991 but lacked the
necessary resources to be effective. Congress passed the
country's first divorce bill in September.
Paraguay has an unassimilated, and generally ignored and
neglected, Indian population estimated at between 75,000 and
100,000. The Government's National Indigenous Institute (INDI)
has the authority to purchase land on behalf of Indian
communities and to expropriate private property under certain
conditions to establish tribal homelands, but the entity is not
well-funded. The Government actively encourages church groups
to work with indigenous populations in health and welfare as
well as in religious matters. The problems of the indigenous
population, particularly those involving land claims, continued
to receive frequent media attention.
 Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Private sector workers are free to form and join unions without
government interference. The existing Labor Code does not
permit public sector, temporary, or domestic workers to
organize. Public sector workers, with few exceptions, continue
to experience strong resistance by management to their union
activities. However, the Ministry of Justice and Labor,
consistent with International Labor Organization (ILO)
guidelines, has acted in favor of public employee unions.
Protections for them were incorporated into the Government's
proposed new labor code which was being considered by Congress
at year's end. Less than 5 percent of Paraguayan workers are
Government permission to exercise the right to strike is
limited by a complex legal process of fact-finding,
arbitration, and adjudication that can involve delays of
several years. In 1991 public sector strikes were prohibited.
However, the Union of Electric Utility Workers (SITRANDE)
achieved a landmark decision from the labor courts in favor of
unionization. This was the first judicial ruling in favor of
the unionization of public employees. Nevertheless, the
management of the Electric Utility Company (ANDE) refused to
abide by the court's decision. SITRANDE went on strike in
September seeking formal recognition from management. The
strike ended when, unable to force management to recognize the
union (see comment in Section 6.b.) and considering inevitable
a judicial ruling that a public sector strike was illegal,
SITRANDE obtained a promise from Congress that it would address
the problem.
The most serious challenge to union activity in 1991 was the
arrest of United Workers Central (CUT) President Victor Baez
Mosqueira for refusing to abide by a judge's order regarding
the timing of the CUT'S national congress. Gregorio Ojeda, of
the CUT'S affiliated Construction Workers Union (SINATRAC), had
previously obtained a court injunction prohibiting the CUT from
holding its national congress until the CUT Executive Committee
permitted Ojeda to serve with his particular delegation. Baez
Mosqueira put the matter before the CUT congressional delegates
who unequivocally rejected the judge's injunction. The judge
issued an arrest warrant against Baez Mosqueira and ordered him
held for 20 days for contempt. Baez Mosqueira was freed after
serving half of the sentence when an appeals court ruled that
the judge's arrest order was inappropriate. Frequent and
sporadic incidents of pressure, particularly against unions
affiliated with the CUT and the National Workers' Coordination
(CNT), continued throughout 1991.
Unions fully exercise their freedom to associate with regional
and international labor organizations.
Although still nominally independent, the leadership of both
the CUT and the CPT made efforts to involve their unions more
directly in partisan politics. CUT was integral to the
formation of the "Asuncion for Everyone Movement" which won the
May 26 Asuncion municipal elections. With a goal of nominating
delegates to the Constitutional Convention, CUT worked to
create an independent political front. A sector of the CPT
also sought to become more involved with national politics. In
September a wing of the CPT led by Basilio Gonzalez Hermosillo
formed the Colorado Worker Movement "27th of August," an
organization directly associated with the Colorado Party.
Paraguay was reinstated in February to eligibility for trade
benefits under the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences
(GSP) . Paraguay had been denied trade preferences since 1987
for noncompliance with the GSP program's international worker
rights provisions. Before the decision to reinstate was
reached, the CUT expressed strong reservations about
reinstating GSP privileges before the replacement of the
existing archaic and biased Labor Code.
In April Ramiro Barboza of the Catholic University, with the
support of the CUT and a few parliamentary sponsors, submitted
a draft of a new labor code to Congress. This draft would
substantially broaden protections for workers, including the
right of association and to strike by public employees. Soon
afterwards, the Government submitted a new version of the draft
labor code which it had originally presented to Congress the
previous November. It is a clear improvement over the existing
Code. At year's end, although the Chamber of Deputies had
passed the revised code in November, the Senate had not yet
voted on it. The right of association has significantly
improved in one aspect; the Justice and Labor Ministry is no
longer an obstacle for workers wanting to unionize.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The right to bargain collectively is recognized in the Labor
Code, but most employers refuse to enter into such bargaining
because no legal sanctions or government pressures exist which
oblige them either to recognize duly constituted unions or to
bargain with them.
The tactic of firing the leaders of nascent unions,
traditionally used by Paraguayan employers, declined somewhat
in 1991. However the firing and harassment of union organizers
by the private sector continued. The Stroessner era Labor Code
provides little protection to unions and union leaders. The
new labor code pending in the Senate at year's end would better
protect union organizers and impose sanctions against employers
who violate worker rights. Under present legislation, fired
union leaders can seek redress in the courts, but the labor
courts sometimes respond slowly to complaints. As in previous
years, in some cases where judges ordered fired workers
reinstated, the employers disregarded the court order. In the
case of the reinstatement of FETRABAN workers fired from the
Development Bank in early 1991, management made an effort to
humiliate reinstated workers by rerouting all work away from
Having received various complaints regarding interference in
the right to organize and to strike, failure to protect workers
from antiunion discrimination, and police violence against
agricultural workers, various ILO bodies in 1991 criticized
Paraguayan labor law and practice for not protecting freedom of
association, the right to organize, and collective bargaining,
Paraguay has no export processing zones.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced labor is prohibited by law, and is not practiced.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Office of the Director General for the Protection of Minors
in the Ministry of Justice and Labor is responsible for
enforcing Paraguay's child labor laws. Minors between 15 and
18 years of age can be employed only with parental
authorization and cannot be employed in dangerous or unhealthy
conditions. Children between 12 and 15 years of age may be
employed only in family enterprises, apprenticeships, or in
agriculture. Furthermore, the Labor Code prohibits work by
children under 12 years of age. However, in practice more than
25,000 children, many younger than 12, work in the streets of
Asuncion and its suburban communities selling newspapers,
shining shoes, and cleaning car windows. In rural areas, it is
not unusual for children as young as 10 to work beside their
parents cutting sugar cane.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Government has established a private sector minimum wage,
regionally adjusted according to cost-of-living indices,
sufficient to maintain a minimally adequate standard of
living. The minimum does not apply to all private sector
employees, domestic servants, for example. Furthermore, it is
estimated that 60 to 80 percent of Paraguayan workers earn less
than the decreed minimum.
According to the Labor Code, maximum weekly hours are 48 for
day work and 42 for night work, with 1 day of rest. The law
provides for an annual bonus of 1 month's salary. A married
women needs her husband's consent to enter into a labor
contract, although labor contracts cannot be denied to women
who worked prior to marriage.
The Labor Code also governs conditions of safety, hygiene, and
comfort. In general, the Government does not effectively
enforce the safety and hygiene provisions of the Labor Code,
partially due to a lack of inspectors.