GENEVA (27 July 2017) - The Committee against Torture this afternoon concluded the consideration of the seventh periodic report of Paraguay on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Presenting the report, Sindulfo Blanco, Minister in Charge of the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Paraguay, said that Paraguay had updated its penitentiary system, penal code and code of criminal proceedings. It had adopted a new code on sentence enforcement in 2014, while in December 2016 it had enacted a law on comprehensive protection of women against all forms of violence, which for the first time criminalized femicide. Paraguay was the first country in the region to establish an independent mechanism to monitor compliance with the standards under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, called the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture.
Ariel Martinez, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Paraguay, said that concrete actions were being implemented to make justice accessible to all. To that end, since 2013 the Ministry of Internal Affairs had been enforcing the mandatory use of a detention registry in all police stations in order to systematize the grounds for detention. In addition, since November 2016, the system called Marandu allowed the registration and processing complaints in a digital form and periodic monitoring of penitentiary and education centres was being carried out in order to prevent torture.
Committee Experts welcomed Paraguay’s initiatives to promote greater professionalism in the promotion of human rights and its full cooperation with United Nations human rights mechanisms and commended Paraguay for having led the initiative in Latin America to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. Nevertheless, they regretted that ill-treatment was an entrenched practice in Paraguayan prisons which continued to be used to discipline inmates. There were many reports of torture, but few investigations and even fewer sentences. Experts asked about domestication of the Rome Statute, lack of procedural guarantees for detainees, deficiencies in the systematization of the arrest registers throughout the country, and serious budgetary constraints for the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture. Excessive use of pre-trial detention lead to prison overcrowding, they said and raised concerns about the intervention of the military in civilian affairs, lack of impartial investigation of the police involvement in the Curuguaty case, allegations of widespread of corruption among police forces, reparations for the victims of torture during the dictatorship, deaths in custody, detention of juvenile offenders, the protection of the rights of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons, and domestic violence complaints.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Blanco thanked for the opportunity to have a dialogue with the Committee against Torture. The comments made by the Committee were worthy taking back home and would be used to train new judicial officials.
The delegation of Paraguay included representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Public Defence, and the Permanent Mission of Paraguay to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 28 July, at 3 p.m. to continue the consideration of the second periodic report of Ireland (CAT/C/IRL/2).
The seventh periodic report of Paraguay can be read here: CAT/C/PRY/7.
Presentation of the Report
SINDULFO BLANCO, Minister in Charge of the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Paraguay, said that, in line with the Convention, article 5 of the Constitution established the non-applicability of torture ad guaranteed that no one would be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Significant progress had been made in this area and Paraguay was conscious of the challenges ahead. Aware that domestic standards had to be in line with international ones, the country had updated its penitentiary system, penal code and code on criminal procedure; adopted in 2014 new sentence enforcement law; and enacted in December 2016 a law on comprehensive protection of women against all forms of violence, which, for the first time, criminalized femicide. The law on the independence of the judiciary, enacted in 2012, provided for free legal assistance to vulnerable individuals. The law on trafficking in persons had strengthened the State’s activities to counter that offence and had created a national prevention programme and the national fund for victims of trafficking. Recently, the law on the promotion of good treatment and good parenting and on the prevention of physical punishment of children had been adopted, while the law on domestic work prohibited such work by children under the age of 18.
Mr. Blanco also said that institutions dealing with public defence, persons with disabilities, women, labour, employment and social security, and anti-corruption had been strengthened. Paraguay was the first country in the region to establish an independent mechanism to monitor compliance with the standards under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, called the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture. In 2012, the Ministry of Internal Affairs had created an anti-trafficking department, as well as 16 new offices to address violence against women and children. The link between human rights and sustainable development was unbreakable, stressed Mr. Blanco and said that within that framework, the Government had come up with strategies and plans to involve all public and private stakeholders in the National Plan of Action for Development of Paraguay 2030. The Judicial Strategic Plan 2016-2020 aimed to deliver justice in a more transparent manner and to prioritize the most vulnerable groups.
ARIEL MARTINEZ, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Paraguay, said that a national observatory for security and civic coexistence had set up within the Ministry of Internal Affairs in order to prevent crimes. Paraguay was promoting the National Plan of Action for Indigenous Peoples and in its first phase it had elaborated the preliminary guidelines with the participation of the indigenous communities of the country; those had been published in March 2017. The Ministry of Justice Strategic Institutional Plan 2017-2021 incorporated a progressive application of international standards, such as the Mandela Rules, United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty, and the Bangkok Rules. Since May 2017, a high-level course on human rights was being developed in cooperation with the regional Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, with an emphasis on the follow-up of international recommendations.
The Government was implementing concrete actions to make justice accessible to all, said Mr. Martinez and stressed that the mandatory use of a detention registry in all police stations was being enforced since 2013 in order to systematize the grounds for detention. A system called Marandu, in place since November 2016, allowed for the registration and processing complaints in a digital form while a periodic monitoring of penitentiary and education centres was being carried out in order to prevent torture. One of the Supreme Court priorities was to address judicial sluggishness and increase transparency of judicial proceedings. Approximately 18 million US dollars had been invested in the reform of the penitentiary system, focusing on women, foreigners, indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities in detention. Within the framework of the recommendations by the Truth and Justice Commission, Paraguay had identified four out of the 34 remains of disappeared persons and had granted reparations to families.
Questions by the Country Co-Rapporteurs
CLAUDE HELLER ROUASSANT, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Paraguay, welcomed Paraguay’s initiatives to promote greater professionalism in the promotion of human rights and its full cooperation with the United Nations human rights mechanisms. Paraguay was up to date with the submission of all its reports to the United Nations treaty bodies. Mr. Heller was pleased to note that Paraguay had used its experience to strengthen the international human rights system, notably by the SIMORE mechanism, and that it led the initiative in Latin America to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
However, torture and ill-treatment continued to be used by police officers in prisons and police stations, especially in the north of the country. The Co-Rapporteur raised the issue of accusations of excessive use of force by the police during protests in March and April 2017 in the context of the vote on the amendment of the Constitution and noted that ill-treatment was an entrenched practice in prisons which continued to be used to discipline inmates. There were many reports of torture, but few investigations and even fewer sentences, while the National Preventive Mechanism stated that torture and ill-treatment continued to affect vulnerable groups, such as detainees, women, adolescents, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, persons with mental illnesses, elderly, street children, addicts and indigenous persons.
What was the state of play concerning the incorporation of the Rome Statute into the national legislation? Torture was criminalized and carried a minimum sentence of five years of imprisonment - what was the maximum sentence for torture and what was the criteria for establishing a range of penalties in line with the seriousness of the crime?
Mr. Heller noted that there was no mention of the right of detainees to an independent medical examination and the lack of procedural guarantees for detainees, due to the lack of infrastructure. There were no separate detention facilities for women in pre-trial detention, detainees did not have access to a lawyer upon arrest, nor could they contact a family member. The arrest registers were not being used in all police station and there were no penalties for not keeping a proper register – what were the intentions regarding the establishment of a national register of arrest?
The Ombudsman’s Office had withdrawn from the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions in 2014 and it failed to react to the concerns expressed by the civil society about emblematic human rights violations, such as torture. What was the current situation of the Ombudsman’s Office and its relationship with the Global Alliance? How many complaints had been made to the Ombudsman and how many times had a public criticism of human rights violations been made?
The work of the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture had not been as effective as hoped: the level of compliance with international standards was low, there was little commitment of the Government to comply with relevant recommendations, and there had been serious budgetary constraints since 2013 with a 25 per cent drop in resources. What measures were being considered to enable the Mechanism to execute its mandate as set out in the founding act?
Judicial officials seemed not to comply with the 2015 recommendations to restrict the use of pre-trial detention which was one of the root causes of prison overcrowding: some 77 per cent of detainees in Paraguay were remand prisoners, the fourth highest rate in the world and the highest one in Latin America.
The crux of the matter was the continued use of torture and ill-treatment in custodial facilities - 51 per cent of interviewed detainees said they had been tortured or beaten by the police force while in detention. According to civil society reports, adolescents were not told why they were detained, they had no access to a lawyer or the right to contact a family member, and only five per cent of those detained were convicted.
The Joint Task Force, consisting of members of the police, military and the National Secretariat against Substance Abuse, had been overstepping its powers in northern Paraguay and using torture repeatedly. It had militarized domestic security, which ran counter to Paraguay’s international obligations. What were the laws that governed the intervention of the army in matters normally pertaining to the police?
Mr. Heller referred to the case of Curuguaty which resulted in the death of 17 persons in June 2012. The Government had only investigated the death of six police officers, whereas the convictions of 14 peasants did not follow the due process. The facts surrounding the case needed to be clarified and the State party had an obligation to conduct an impartial investigation.
Mr. Heller commended the Government’s plan to protect the rights of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons. However, laws were far from being able to guarantee their rights, due to the discriminatory treatment by the administration, notably in the case of Syrian refugees and asylum seekers. The growing number of Syrian asylum seekers had entered irregularly from Brazil, and therefore, the Government needed to regularize the admission of refugees and asylum seekers and adopt adequate protection measures for them. There were reports of asylum seekers being deported to their country of origin, despite a legitimate risk of torture.
ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Paraguay, welcomed the State party’s cooperation with the United Nations treaty bodies, and the adoption of steps to improve the protection of human rights. Yet, the provisions of the national Constitution on the use of torture and the extraction of confessions under duress remained problematic.
The fundamental guarantees in criminal procedures needed to be strengthened - the right to a lawyer, contact with a family member, and the right to an independent medical examination. The Istanbul Protocol was hardly applied at all, and prosecutors often did not pay attention whether evidence was extracted under duress, with such confessions often being accepted. There were also allegations of a widespread corruption among police forces - what was being done to counter that corruption? What was done to improve access of peasants to legal aid? How did the judicial system work following the 2010 reform?
Turning to the conditions in places of detention, the Country Co-Rapporteur noted an increase in the prison population which lead to some prisoners having to live in corridors. Did the State party make any plans to resolve that problem? The main reason for the excessive use of pre-trial detention were judges who were bound by the law that did not allow the application of alternative sentences. There was no separation of certain categories of prisoners, such as women, minors and remand prisoners; very few physicians were appointed to work in detention centres; and there was a widespread corruption in order to avoid mistreatment. It was regrettable that isolation was frequently being used as an arbitrary sentence, without a possibility of an appeal.
A large number of deaths in prisons had been reported - 166 deaths between 2013 and 2016, according to the National Prevention Mechanism. Were there any investigations in the cases of police violence and what were their outcomes?
A comprehensive reparations system had been established for the acts of torture carried out during the dictatorship, but how were the reparations being provided with respect to the events of March and April 2017, for the excessive use of force by the police in managing the protests, and in the case of the killing of an opposition leader? What was the state of play of inquiries and how were they conducted?
Minors were sometimes held in deplorable detention conditions, and there were cases of their ill-treatment. Human rights defenders and journalists were generally ill-treated: four journalists had been executed in 2014 and those who reported misconduct of police ran the risk of reprisals.
The delegation was asked to explain how Paraguay applied the rules of universal jurisdiction. Progress in identifying the remains in mass graves was slow and there was a true need to make swifter progress in the area of truth and reconciliation, Ms. Belmir concluded.
Questions by Committee Experts
Experts raised the issue of living conditions in places of detention: the overcrowding stood at 179 per cent, according to independent sources, and there was a lack of adequate and sufficient provision of food, medicines and hygiene to inmates. Experts inquired about the measures to prevent prison violence and to take adequate care of inmates with mental illnesses.
There were serious concerns about children and women in detention. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, there were deaths in detention, the appalling sanitary conditions, the use of isolation cells, lack of education programmes, and beating of juveniles by their teachers. What measures were being undertaken to address those concerns and to investigate deaths of children in detention? Women in detention were subjected to very intrusive and humiliating search practices by prison management in order to ensure security.
What was the evaluation of the training programmes established by the State party to ensure that all public servants, in particular police and other law enforcement officers, were fully familiar with the provisions of the Convention? Did they include specific training on the Istanbul Protocol?
What was the status of a draft law on stateless persons and was it in line with internationally recognized standards?
Paraguay had not provided details of the actual enforcement of the law on reparations to the victims of torture while the reparations to the victims of torture outside the period of dictatorship were not mentioned. What means were available for victims of torture to be rehabilitated and what measures could the courts adopt to ensure reparation to victims?
As for the Truth and Justice Commission, a hundred new cases of enforced disappearances during the dictatorship had been reported. What was the process for examining those new cases? What was the proportion of indigenous peoples among the victims of disappearances?
On the case of a child pornography ring in a prison, what was the outcome of the prosecution? What measures had been taken to prevent such occurrences?
The State party had provided confusing figures on the number of reported and investigated cases of domestic violence complaints. Civil society organizations had reported an epidemic of sexual abuse of young girls in the family setting. What was the Government’s policy on granting the right to abortion in case of pregnancies resulting from such sexual abuse?
Were the recommendations of the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture also included in SIMORE? Experts noted that 85.5 per cent of all minors in detention were in pre-trial detention and asked the delegation to explain why it was so. Another concern was the huge number of deaths in custody, averaging three to four deaths per month. Why had so few cases been brought to trial?
What was the state of play in terms of introducing new interrogation methods free from torture, in order to move away from a culture of confessions to a culture of inquiries?
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, noted that the statistics on complaints for torture provided by Paraguay was not clear and stressed the obligation of the State party to provide clarification on such a crucial issue. Was the duration of solitary confinement regulated by law, was it true that solitary confinement could be used up to 30 days or longer?
Replies by the Delegation
Responding to questions raised concerning pre-trial detention, the delegation said that the Criminal Procedures Code had been amended to regulate non-custodial sentences and that the use of pre-trial detention was being monitored in order to reduce it. Non-custodial sentences were not applicable to those accused in another case or to recidivists, explained the delegation, adding that 70 per cent of individuals in pre-trial detention were accused in previous cases or were involved in another case at the same time. Some 30 per cent of cases in which people were deprived of their liberty could arise from misinterpretation of legal rules.
The Government was trying to improve access to justice by vulnerable groups, and since 2016, it was providing information to indigenous peoples, and to persons with mental and physical impairments, while the Supreme Court had created a technical committee for supporting criminal justice.
Speaking of the case of the pregnant girl called Mainumby whose demand for abortion had been refused in 2015, a delegate explained that she had been in advanced stage of pregnancy and that her mother and close family had been given psychological support within the framework of the best interest of the child. A multi-disciplinary team had been set up to deal with the case and the perpetrator of the rape would be tried in court in April 2018.
In response to questions concerning the compensation for the victims of the dictatorship, the delegation said that a total of almost US$ 100 million had been paid to some 1,500 victims since 2015. With regards to restorative justice, the Supreme Court had launched the Programme of Restorative Juvenile Justice in October 2014. Adolescents in conflict with the law would not be subject to minimal criminal charges.
The Public Prosecutions Service had rejected exculpatory arguments presented by the defence the case of Curuguaty, and judges had made their ruling in line with the law.
Answering questions raised about the Joint Task Force acting in the north of the country, the delegation clarified that its actions had been regulated by an act voted by the National Assembly at the beginning of the current presidential mandate. Any citizen could claim unconstitutionality of any act, added the delegate and said that certain non-governmental organizations had protested against that act; however, unconstitutionality had to be discussed at the Supreme Court and no Paraguayan citizen had launched such a claim.
The Criminal Code set the sentence for act of torture at minimum five years and maximum at 30 years in prison. The delegation further explained that, in line with international standards, detention registers at police stations had been introduced in 2013; they contained the rights of detainees, the date of arrest and health check-up, if requested. The right to medical examination was guaranteed by the law. The level of implementation of detention registers in the national capital and in provincial capitals was high.
Citizens could make complaints to the police through a computerized system, with the aim to increase transparency and increase citizens’ confidence in the judicial system.
The national police had ratified the protocol on juveniles in conflict with the law and a programme called “Let Us Be Citizens through the Construction of Coexistence”, implemented in cooperation with municipalities, aimed at dealing with such children.
Domestic violence was the most reported crime in the country. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the national police were committed to increasing the reporting of this crime and to the gathering of relevant data. The Government was ensuring that figures were more reliable. The hotline (the 911 system) received many false complaints.
Referring to the events of March and April 2017 and the alleged excessive use of force by the police, a delegate explained that a group of demonstrators had set fire to the Chamber of Senators, the event which was broadcast live on a number of television and radio channels. The Government regretted that a young opposition leader had died. The national police handed all the evidence necessary for the prosecution of the police officers involved in the excessive use of force and three internal cases were currently investigated. In order to ensure that nothing similar happened again, the Government and the Ministry of Internal Affairs would professionalize the police force.
Training courses on prevention of torture had been carried out for public officials, and manuals on the investigation of cases of torture had been made available to judicial personnel. Workshops on investigation techniques for alleged cases of torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearances had been held. They had been developed in cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Swiss embassy in Paraguay.
The national plan of action on human rights had never received full national consensus, including on the issue of abortion. The plan did not fully reflect the inclusive process that had led to its adoption; it incorporated relevant recommendations to fight the use of torture and 36 institutions were part of the implementation of the national plan.
There was an increase of the prison population between 2015 and 2016. There were separate wings for female prisoners. In June 2017, there was a prison overcrowding of more than 5,000. The Government had made investments to increase the number of detention places. A paradigm had shifted from accommodation in wings to accommodation in dormitories.
The Ministry of Justice had set up new centres for juvenile offenders and had moved towards restorative justice. Some improvements had been achieved in the provision of health services in prisons, such as services for persons with mental illnesses, and obstetric services for female prisoners.
A bill on the freedom of expression of journalists and human rights defenders was in the works and was being discussed in the Parliament.
The main function of the National Prevention Mechanism was to safeguard human rights within its scope of competence and to promote local, regional, national and international cooperation in the field of human rights. There was a 50 per cent increase in the number of public defenders, and an increase in the Mechanism’s budget, with 57 offices distributed throughout the country. The public defenders used confidential interviews with inmates in detention centres about potential use of torture and ill-treatment and the living conditions in prisons.
The use of solitary confinement was defined by the 1970 law which had been partially changed in 2014, and which provided a five-day appeal period for such a punishment. Most prisons still had a high rate of the use of solitary confinement, and Paraguay had drawn up obligatory guidelines for the use of solitary confinement.
Between 2013 and 2017, a total of 144 deaths in custody had been registered. There were periodic and unannounced visits to all prisons. Prison officials and staff were trained on the respect of human rights in detention facilities, including on alternative dispute resolution. As for the investigation of torture and ill-treatment, the Government was working on developing a possibility to report to prison authorities.
Responding to the questions about the slow progress in the identification of the remains of forcibly disappeared persons between 1954 and 1989, the delegation said that the Government was working with civil society in the search and identification process.
Paraguay was aware that it had to strive to ensure the best interest of children, and it was trying to amend its laws to that end. A unit devoted to child labour had been created within the Ministry of Labour and all State suppliers had to sign an oath that they did not use child labour. The programme called “Abrazo” offered protection to street children. A unit had also been created to deal with child domestic workers (the phenomenon of criadazgo), and a hotline had been created for children to report rights violation.
A bill on statelessness was being considered by the National Commission on Refugees, and the delegation confirmed that the United Nations Refugee Agency was satisfied with the bill. There were many migration flows on the border between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. Syrian refugees had been given priority due the appeal of the United Nations Refugee Agency.
There was a heated debate on the domestication of the Rome Statute; in June 2017 the Chamber of Senators had ratified a relevant document and sent it back to the Chamber of Deputies where it had originated.
Follow-up Questions by the Experts
CLAUDE HELLER ROUASSANT, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Paraguay, noted that the Curuguaty case was still a matter of concern because none of the involved police officers had been prosecuted. There had to be an impartial investigation. Legislators in Paraguay had to ensure that the definition of torture was fully in line with the Convention.
There was a good institutional framework in Paraguay, however, there was a serious concern about impunity and, thus, a need for strengthening the investigative powers of the State, the oversight of prison guards, and a need for a protection system for victims and witnesses of torture.
The Expert expressed concern that some cases in connection with the Joint Task Force in the north of the country were tried in military courts and that there were no guarantees for procedural safeguards. Paraguay was the first country in the region to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, and as such it should make relevant implementations.
ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Paraguay, drew attention to confessions obtained through torture and said that there was no investigation protocol for complaints of alleged cases of torture. Pre-trial detention should be the measure of last resort when a person presented a risk to society. How were detention registers at police stations managed?
As for the identification of forcibly disappeared persons, victims should be able to gain compensation in their own country.
The Criminal Procedure Code allowed pre-trial detention to become a rule rather than an exception, the Co-Rapporteur said, noting that procedures must be in place to minimize the length of pre-trial detention. The use of pre-trial detention was particularly alarming when it came to minors.
Experts again asked about the humiliating search practices performed on female inmates and raised concern about the growing number of young girls becoming pregnant as a result of rape and incest. According to civil society organization, 89 per cent of domestic violence complaints were archived when victims withdrew the complaint, even though those crimes should be prosecuted.
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, asked how victims of alleged torture could safely lodge their complaints, stressing that this was a crucial issue. What more than the right to medical examination was provided in case of torture, namely recording of the case? What was the time limit for solitary confinement, he asked, noting that it should not exceed 15 days.
Replies by the Delegation
In response to Experts’ comments on pre-trial detention, the delegation said that its use had been vociferously criticized by the general public in the country. As soon as domestic violence was criminalized, more people ended up in prison.
In terms of complaints, those of police torture and of corruption were mixed together. If a citizen wanted to file a complaint about police torture to the police through a safe channel, they had that option. Detention registers at police stations needed to be carefully maintained, which was why a computerised system had been launched.
The 911 hotline for reporting domestic violence was abused, said the delegation and explained that discrepancy in figures on domestic violence cases was due to different standards in handling the reports by the 911 hotline and by the judiciary. The police had eight stations dedicated to combat domestic violence.
Despite opinions in favour of or against of the intervention of the military in civilian affairs (the Join Task Force), the act of 2013 had been passed by the Parliament and any further discussion should take place within the Parliament.
A new bill addressed the protection of witnesses of torture. The handbook for effective investigation of torture and ill-treatment was brought in line with the Istanbul Protocol in 2011.
Indeed, solitary confinement of up to 30 days was used in more serious cases. In reference to the use of invasive and humiliating search procedures on female inmates, measures had been taken to ensure that the Mandela Rules were applied in all prisons. A pilot programme of “open prisons” had been launched for female prisoners.
SINDULFO BLANCO, Minister in Charge of Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Paraguay, thanked for the opportunity to have a dialogue with the Committee against Torture. The comments made by the Committee were worthy taking back home and would be used to train new judicial officials.
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, reminded the delegation of the opportunity to submit additional replies in writing within 48 hours. He thanked the delegation for the cooperation and positive attitude.
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