- 406,752 sq km
- Total Population
- 6,568,000 (UN 2011)
- Prison Rate
- 118 (per 100,000 of national population)
- Capital Punishment
- abolished for all crimes
- ratified (1990)
- ratified (2005)
- National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (Comision Nacional para la Prevención de la Tortura)
Landlocked between Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia, the Republic of Paraguay is one of the least densely populated countries in South America with a relatively homogenous population of roughly 95% mestizos (of a mixed Spanish and Amerindian descent). Since its independence in 1811, Paraguay has experienced a series of dictatorships and high political instability and was involved in two major disputes with neighbouring states – the “War of the Triple Alliance” against Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina (1865-1870) and the “Chaco War” against Bolivia (1932-35). Subsequently, the military increased its intervention in politics which led to a civil war in 1947 and to a coup d’etat in 1954 after which General Alfredo Stroessner seized uninterrupted power until 1989. His anti-communist regime, supported by the United States, heavily suppressed its opposition leaving a “deep legacy of fear and self-censorship among Paraguayans” (Britannica Online Encyclopedia 2010) which increasingly attracted international criticism. The end of Stroessner’s military dictatorship brought about political liberalisation and the adoption of a new constitution in 1992 that establishes Paraguay as a constitutional republic with the president as head of state and government, a bicameral legislature and a multi-party system. However, with the armed forces remaining a key power, Paraguay’s democratisation process faced great political unrest and a financial crisis beginning in the late 1990s. In the historic elections in 2008, former bishop and leader of the Alianza Patriótica para el Cambio (APC), Fernando Lugo, emerged as Paraguay’s new president, ending 61 years of conservative rule of the Asociación Nacional Republicana (ANR), known as the ‘Partido Colorado’.
Paraguay’s market economy has been mainly based on agriculture, informal trade with Argentina and Brazil and hydroelectric industries. Despite its steady growth in the beginning of the 21st century, it remains one of the poorest countries in Latin America with a “medium human development” (111th place in a ranking of 186 countries in 2012) due to a lack of structural reforms and deficient infrastructure, political uncertainty and widespread corruption, for which Paraguay ranks 150 out of 177 countries in the Corruption Perception Index.
The end of military rule has witnessed a significant improvement of the overall situation of human rights in Paraguay with the release of the remaining political prisoners, the ratification of major human rights treaties and the adoption of a new constitution providing for a comprehensive bill of human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights as well as rights of indigenous peoples. Yet, some human rights concerns remain, especially regarding the rights of indigenous peoples that still suffer from difficulties in accessing their cultural lands, discrimination and deteriorating living conditions as well as inadequate access to essential services which the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has repeatedly condemned for violating the rights of indigenous peoples. According to non-governmental sources and the U.S. Department of State Human Rights Report, further human rights abuses include excessive use of force and killings, torture and other forms of ill-treatment by law enforcement personnel as well as severe prison overcrowding; political interference and inefficiency of the judiciary; violence and discrimination against women, persons with disabilities as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons (LGBTs); trafficking in persons; violations of workers’ rights and exploitative forms of child labour.
Accounting for the human rights violations during the military dictatorship of General Stroessner, the Truth and Justice Commission of Paraguay was established in 2003 providing a historical record of these violations and contributing to their prosecutions. In its final report in 2008, the Commission investigated numerous instances of arbitrary detention and forced disappearance, summary executions and torture and proposed collective justice and reparation for the victims. The Commission was transformed into the Directorate General Truth, Justice and Reparation of the Office of the Ombudsman in January 2009.
Situation of Torture and Ill-Treatment
Paraguay is State Party to all major human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), its Second Optional Protocol aiming at the abolition of the death penalty and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), recognising the competence of the Committee against Torture to receive and consider both inter-state and individual complaints (articles 21 and 22). Furthermore, Paraguay has ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) and has established the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (Comision Nacional para la Prevención de la Tortura) as National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). In addition, the institutional context for the prohibition and prevention of torture includes three inter-institutional commissions that visit adult prisons, detention centres for juveniles and military barracks and the Office of the Ombudsman that is mandated inter alia to conduct unannounced visits to places of detention, to channel individual complaints and to deal with claims for reparations of victims of the Stroessner regime which according to Amnesty International amount to 13,700 applications.
At the regional level, Paraguay has ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, the Protocol abolishing the death penalty as well as the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture and recognises the competence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Article 141 of the Constitution of Paraguay determines that international treaties form part of the domestic legal order however ranking below the constitutional level in the norm hierarchy described in article 137. The prohibition of torture is laid down in article 5 of the Constitution that also establishes torture as a crime that is not subject to any statute of limitations, as reiterated in article 102 (3) of the Penal Code. The Constitution also contains fundamental safeguards against torture and ill-treatment during arrest and detention.
Formerly, the Paraguayan Penal Code defined the offence of torture in article 309 requiring a perpetrator to have “the intention of destroying or seriously damaging the personality of the victim or a third party” which was as restrictive and difficult to prove that it did not comply with the definition of article 1 CAT. Due to the criticism on national and international level, article 309 CC was finally amended in 2012 (law Nº 4614/12). The new definition of torture is based on the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture (art. 2), rather than art. 1 CAT. It is, however, a clear improvement and makes it much easier to initiate investigations and bring perpetrators to justice. Thus, only acts that constitute torture under these requirements are punishable by at least 5 years as laid down in articles 13 and 309 of the Penal Code which is not in line with article 4 CAT. So far, the Military Criminal Code lacks a prohibition of torture but legal amendments aiming at the absolute prohibition of torture have been drafted.
Practice of Torture and Ill-Treatment
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture (SRT) visited Paraguay in November 2006 and concluded on the basis of his fact-finding that the situation of torture and ill-treatment had improved in prisons and military detention facilities but remained of serious concern in police custody. Therein, torture was widely practiced during the first days of detention with the purpose of obtaining confessions and could be explained by a culture of impunity arising from the restrictive definition of torture mentioned above, the absence of an independent complaints procedure within the police or prison system and the State’s failure to properly investigate allegations of torture. The SRT further found that fundamental safeguards against torture set out in the Constitution, the Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure were inadequately implemented and conditions of detention, though improving over the last years, were often deplorable amounting to inhuman or degrading treatment with overcrowding remaining a structural problem.
In March 2009, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) undertook its first periodic visit to Paraguay which was followed up by a visit in September 2010. It confirmed the picture of repeated instances of torture due to major legislative loopholes and a lack of protection provided by courts and other institutions, such as the Ombudsman’s Office and concluded that in Paraguay “rights lack[ed] sufficient guarantees”1.
Against these conclusions, the current administration was complimented by the SPT on its “commitment at the highest level to the prevention of torture and ill-treatment”2 which it also demonstrated by submitting its 4th to 6th periodic reports to the CAT Committee in October 2010. Responding to the SPT, the government listed positive measures in the area of the prevention of torture and ill-treatment, inter alia drafting legal amendments to the Military Criminal Code, restructuring the Ombudsman Office to improve its effectiveness, establishing a Human Rights Department in the Office of the National Police Commander mandated with the inspection of the infrastructure of police stations, setting-up an inter-agency commission for the monitoring of police stations, establishing a Human Rights Prosecution Unit as well as a special commission of the legislative branch that receives, monitors and follows up complaints of torture.
Yet within the UPR process, the Ombudsman’s Office raised its concern about delays in passing the draft NPM law and criticised internal procedures for falling short of the obligations to investigate and report cases of torture under the Istanbul Protocol and the lack of rehabilitation programmes for victims of torture. The Ombudsman’s Office recommended the adoption of a prison policy and the update of prison centres as well as human rights training of law enforcement personnel. Moreover, the NGO network CODEHUPY (Coordinadora de Derechos Humanos del Paraguay) recommended that victims of torture should have “access to an effective judicial remedy and the right to have the alleged perpetrators tried within a reasonable time, and also to receive adequate compensation”3.
1Report on the visit of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to the Republic of Paraguay, CAT/OP/PRY/1, 7 June 2010, para. 25
2Report on the visit of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to the Republic of Paraguay, CAT/OP/PRY/1, 7 June 2010, para. 18
3Summary of stakeholders’ information, A/HRC/WG.6/10/PRY/3, 1 October 2010, para. 17
Sources: UNdata Country Profile Paraguay; World Bank, Data; King’s College London: Prison Brief for Paraguay; Amnesty International: Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries; OHCHR, BBC News Country Profile, BBC News – Timeline, CIA World Factbook, Transparency International 2010, Britannica Online Encyclopedia – Academic Edition, Economist Intelligence Unit, U.S. Department of State Human Rights Report, Amnesty International, United States Institute of Peace, Coordinadora Derechos Humanos Paraguay (Codehupy), Amnesty International Paraguay
Documents: Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, Mission to Paraguay, A/HRC/7/3/Add.3, 1 October 2007; Report on the visit of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to the Republic of Paraguay, CAT/OP/PRY/1, 7 June 2010; Replies of the Republic of Paraguay to the recommendations and requests for information made by the SPT, CAT/OP/PRY/1/Add.1, 10 June 2010; Summary of stakeholders’ information, A/HRC/WG.6/10/PRY/3, 1 October 2010