RIGHT TO LIFE AND PERSONAL SECURITY
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.
Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, an international instrument that is
applicable to Paraguay states the following in Article I:
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.
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.
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.
Constitution of the Republic of Paraguay addresses the matter in these terms:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Faustina Torres de Quintana: No information available about this case.
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.
Darío Goñi Martínez: Uruguayan
citizen: Deported from the country
with a Lebanese man with the surname of Mesconi in May of 1979.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Commission has received information from various sources that the following
persons are among those tortured during the period covered by this report.
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.
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
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.