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Human Rights Committee reviews the situation of Civil and Political Rights in Paraguay

Human Rights Committee

10 July 2019

The Human Rights Committee concluded today its review of the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Paraguay.

In his opening remarks, Marcelo Scappini, Director General for Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, said Paraguay was presenting its fourth periodic report, which took into consideration the lessons learned, the challenges faced, and the strengths gained throughout 30 years of democracy.  In line with its Constitution, Paraguay recognized international human rights law, as well as international solidarity and cooperation, as part of its own legislation.  Regarding the Committee’s recommendations, the Executive Inter-Institutional Commission for the Implementation of International Rulings and Recommendations Related to Human Rights had been strengthened: it had been consolidated at the highest political level, and had been granted its own operative structure.  The State had achieved significant progress related to indigenous peoples’ rights, including measures securing land and the creation of a Community Development Fund. 

Committee Experts noted that the delegation was gender-balanced and comprised of representatives of various Government bodies, although there was no one representing the judiciary.  On new legislative initiatives, they pointed out that the challenge lay in ensuring that they were comprehensively implemented.  Policy setbacks were an issue.  How did the Government ensure the participation of other State bodies at meetings of the Executive Inter-Institutional Commission for the Implementation of International Rulings and Recommendations Related to Human Rights?  Were there any rulings in domestic courts that invoked or applied the Covenant?  They sought confirmation that the Covenant trumped domestic law but did not supersede the Constitution.  They asked if the human rights plan had been reviewed to reflect the agreements and consensus reached prior to its adoption, notably as regarded the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, and abortions.

Mr. Scappini, in his concluding remarks, said that the delegation was grateful for the Experts’ questions, which illustrated their independence, interest, care as well as their commitment to human rights.  Human rights were moving forward.  This dialogue had shown to what extent Paraguay was committed to human rights.  Mechanisms like this one were a mirror upon which Paraguay could reflect to build a better society.

Ahmed Amin Fathalla, Committee Chair, in his concluding remarks, thanked the delegation, saying that the Committee would provide recommendations.  The dialogue had been fruitful and constructive.  The Committee appreciated the delegation’s frankness and that the Government used the Covenant as a basis for investigations.

The delegation of Paraguay consisted of representatives of the Chamber of Deputies, the Paraguayan Institute of Indigenous Peoples, the Vice President’s Office, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Women, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Foreign Relations, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Permanent Mission of Paraguay to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

Documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. this afternoon to consider the situation in Equatorial Guinea in the absence of a report (CCPR/C/GNQ/Q/1). 

Report

The Committee has before it the second periodic report of Paraguay (CCPR/C/PRY/4). 

Presentation of the Report

MARCELO SCAPPINI, Director General for Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, said Paraguay was presenting its fourth periodic report which took into consideration the lessons learned, the challenges faced, and the strengths gained throughout 30 years of democracy.  In line with its Constitution, Paraguay recognized international human rights law as part of its own legislation.  Since 2003, it had extended a permanent open invitation to all the Rapporteurs and Experts of the United Nations system, as well as to all the Special Rapporteurs of the inter-American human rights system.  Regarding the Committee’s recommendations, the Executive Inter-Institutional Commission for the Implementation of International Rulings and Recommendations Related to Human Rights had been strengthened: it had been consolidated at the highest political level, namely to the Office of the Vice President, and had been granted its own operative structure.  The State had achieved significant progress related to indigenous peoples’ rights, including measures securing land and the creation of a Community Development Fund. 

Through an institutional agreement, a web platform and an app for smart phones had been created to facilitate the registration of acts of torture.  They could be used by public defenders throughout the country.  The Government was in the last stages of elaborating policies focusing on human rights, such as the National Plan for Indigenous Peoples, which incorporated indigenous peoples’ vision, thanks to wide regional consultations.  A law on domestic work, which created a minimum wage for domestic workers, had been enacted, and it was prohibited to employ minors.  In deploying efforts to guarantee the dignity and human rights of all persons, the Government faced complex issues.  One of the most important challenges faced by Paraguay was limited resources.  The detention system’s critical condition had led to a regrettable loss of lives in the past few days.  The State had taken an unwavering stand, and by involving all stakeholders, it had put together a strategy aiming to address the root causes of these problems through comprehensive changes.  

Questions by Committee Experts

Committee Experts noted that the delegation was gender-balanced and that it comprised representatives of various Government bodies, although there was no one representing the judiciary.  What was the State body in charge of overseeing the system that monitored the implementation of human rights recommendations?  Experts asked how the Government ensured that civil society participated in oversight and follow-up work related to human rights?  On new legislative initiatives, they noted that the challenge lay in ensuring that they were comprehensively implemented.  Policy setbacks were also an issue.  How did the Government ensure the participation of other State bodies at meetings of the Executive Inter-Institutional Commission for the Implementation of International Rulings and Recommendations Related to Human Rights?  Were there any rulings in domestic courts that invoked or applied the Covenant?  The Experts sought confirmation that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights trumped domestic law but did not supersede the Constitution.  They asked if the human rights plan had been reviewed to reflect the agreements and consensus reached prior to its adoption, notably as regarded the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, and abortions.

Experts asked for information on the process to choose an Ombudsperson with unimpeachable credentials.  What steps had the State party taken to allow the Office of the Ombudsman to carry out its mandate fully and independently?  They requested information on the draft law on demographic parity.  They noted the prohibition of the dissemination of materials on gender, and requested information on sexual education offered in the country.  What was the Government doing to address the wage gap?  Could the delegation indicate the number of attacks against human rights defenders and journalists?  Could they provide information on the murders of Luis Martinez and Zacarias Vega and the related prosecution of Tomas Dosanstos Mikosky?  Why was the latter acquitted?

Experts enquired about dictatorship-era violations, and related convictions.  How many disappeared persons were unaccounted for?  Could the delegation comment on the discrepancy between the figures provided in the chart in paragraph 33 and those included in paragraphs 113-114 of the report?  They asked for information on the seizure of land during the dictatorship and measures to address dictatorship-related issues through the educational system.  They cited the case of Mainumby, the 11-year-old girl who had to give birth because she had been denied an abortion despite having been raped by her father.  Could they provide information on the rationale behind Bill No. 5833/2017?  Noting that abortion was criminalized, they asked how many criminal prosecutions had been launched against victims of rape and incest in that regard.  What happened to the complaints mentioned in paragraph 108 of the report?

Expressing concern about the independence of complaint mechanisms for alleged victims of torture, Committee Experts pointed out that there appeared to be a number of bodies with responsibilities in this field.  What was the division of labour between all these organizations?  How was their independence preserved?  Turning to the Constitution, they asked if article 46 had ever been used to invalidate a law and if there were programmes in place to address the structural causes of poverty within the Afro-Paraguayan community.  According to a source, 60 killings of trans persons had not been investigated.  Could the State party comment on these allegations?  Could they comment on the proliferation of pro-life groups?  Experts asked for confirmation that the law stripping persons deprived of liberty and persons with disabilities of their right to vote would be repealed?  There had been an increase in the number of femicides.  Could the delegation comment on this phenomenon?  Were femicides included in official statistics?  Experts enquired about the situation of women living in rural areas.  Had there been investigations conducted in relation to the operations of the Joint Task Force?  Would the Government consider repealing the legislation that allowed these joint operations to take place?  Experts also asked about the measures put in place to assist victims of human trafficking; how the Government investigated cases of human trafficking; and the policies in place to prevent this practice.

Responses by the Delegation

MARCELO SCAPPINI, Director General for Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, said most of the members of the delegation were directors general, which meant that they were right between those who proposed and those who implemented policy.  The human rights recommendations monitoring system was a tool to ensure proper follow-up.  It was managed by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The strength of this system lay in the network of focal points.  There were no specific meeting schedules for the focal points.  They met after meetings like this one to divide up labour.

The delegation said that the human rights department had recommended that the Eulalio Blanco Dominguez case be investigated by the human rights division.  Yesterday, it had been confirmed that it would be so.  It was important to note that women had been on electoral lists since the country became a democracy.  The State guaranteed women equal access to public posts.  Political parties received subsidies from the State based on the final vote tally.  The Ministry of Women had prepared and submitted a law on electoral parity.  Although it had been adopted by the Senate twice, it had been ultimately rejected by lawmakers.  As regarded substantive equality, a fourth national plan for equality had been submitted this year, and it dealt with the presence of women in decision making bodies.  This instrument aimed to eliminate all forms of discriminations against women.  The Government was continuing to work to promote equality.  Expectations were that there would be a higher level of female participation in the next elections.

The Executive Inter-Institutional Commission for the Implementation of International Rulings and Recommendations Related to Human Rights was comprised of the highest authorities of the Paraguayan State and was chaired by the Vice President.  Currently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs shouldered the responsibility for technical coordination.  The Inter-Institutional Commission could set up a schedule for the implementation of the recommendations stemming from the United Nations system.  It was a management and follow-up system that worked within the State.  Within the Inter-Institutional Commission, there were negotiating tables to foster dialogue amongst various Governmental bodies as well as with victims’ representatives.  It also trained civil servants.  The Committee’s concluding observations were very much on the mind of officials working for the Inter-Institutional Commission.  It was highly likely that this year the President would increase the Inter-Institutional Commission’s budget.  There were a number of rulings that referred to the Covenant.  Prosecutors also invoked it.  The inter-American standards were also used often, in addition to the international ones. When a punishable crime was committed by an active member of the army, it was tried by a military tribunal.  International legal provisions had been used to investigate cases of torture. 

On the National Human Rights Plan, the delegation said that each institution earmarked funds within its own budget.  A new source of financing would be included in the 2020 budget to implement recommendations stemming from bodies like this Committee.  The plan had been included in the National Development Plan, which was related to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.  On the participation of civil society organizations, the delegation explained that they were included in the plan’s national network.  This network, which had been in place for 10 years, was a source of pride.  The Government was working on the third action plan, which aimed to involve local governments.  It published bi-annual progress reports which provided an update on the implementation of the plan.

Turning to the election of the Ombudsman, the delegation explained that it was done through an open call to all citizens.  Their knowledge and professional backgrounds were assessed, and the Senate subsequently held public meetings and drew up a shortlist.  The matter of payments for compensation had been continuously debated.  Currently, measures were being considered to step up the pace of these payments. 

The prohibition of teaching “gender theory” or “gender ideology” in schools was still effective, the delegation stated.  Despite progress, the salary gap was still a reality in the country.  Measures had been introduced to reduce this gap, including a campaign aiming to raise awareness and a strategy called Employment Equality, which promoted labour rights for women, and sought to improve the employability of women, as well as female labour insertion in a dignified manner, on an equal footing with men.

There had been a certain number of cases in which support had been provided to journalists who had been threatened for carrying out their professional activities.  In that regard, mechanisms had been put in place to increase the speed with which the threats and dangers were addressed.  There was an inter-ministerial group that offered training on these matters to members of the judiciary.  There was a list of more than 15 cases from the dictatorship era, which would be provided to the Committee in writing.  The Ombudsperson's budget had increased.  The Ombudsperson’s Office had recently submitted a draft bill requesting that the Ministry of Finance provide compensation to victims of violations that took place during the dictatorship.

Questions by Committee Experts

Experts asked for further information on the process through which the Ministry of Finance could provide compensation to victims, and the role played by the Attorney General and Ombudsperson in that regard; the content and degree of implementation of the National Human Rights Plan; and the credentials of the Ombudsperson’s Office vis-a-vis the global network of national human rights institutions, as well as measures that could be taken to upgrade its status.

Responses by the Delegation

MARCELO SCAPPINI, Director General for Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, said that Paraguay was implementing measures aimed at promoting reproductive health services and reducing social gaps to ensure that such services were available to all women, adolescents and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.  For persons living with HIV, there was legislation in place that set forth protection of their rights, including human rights, as well as available treatment promoted by the Government.  Post-abortion treatment was offered without discrimination, and the Government sought to promote peer support within the healthcare system.  Five workshops had been held to disseminate the basic concepts of sexual education within the Ministry of Health.  

A database had been created to classify the genetic profiles of persons who had been detained or subjected to enforced disappearance during the dictatorship.  The absence of a specific law on discrimination was still being discussed, despite various iterations of draft legislation having failed to be adopted.  The debate was still alive, said Mr. Scappini, expressing hope that action would be taken.  The State had moved to ensure that a set of standards and regulations was in place, thus ensuring that the anti-discrimination provisions of the Constitution were effectively implemented.  On Afro-Paraguayans, he stressed that the National Secretariat for Culture was working on a draft bill that would recognize them as an ethnic minority that had contributed to the construction of the Paraguayan nation.

A law on the comprehensive protection of women criminalized femicides.  The Office of the Public Prosecutor had created a specialized office to address such cases.  The Government was not sure whether there had been an increase in femicides or an increase in reports of such crimes.  The Government had a website where femicide convictions were listed.  Regarding allegations of human rights violations committed by the Joint Task Force, there had been six complaints, five of which were still in the investigation phase.  The sixth case had led to indictments by the Office of the Public Prosecutor; the preliminary audience was pending.

On human trafficking, regional commissions had been strengthened through workshops aimed at fostering the elaboration of regional action plans.  The Government had put in place effective simplified procedures with Brazil for the repatriation of victims of human trafficking.  It had also signed international cooperation agreements at the level of the Southern Common Market and with the International Organization for Migration.

Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts

Committee Experts thanked the head of the delegation for the answers provided.  They requested figures on human trafficking and more information on shelters.  It seemed that the State would implement the recommendations that the Special Rapporteur had elaborated on domestic work.  This would be a positive step.  Could the delegation provide more information on the legislative push to align the State party’s legislation with the International Labour Organization’s convention on domestic work?  How was the State protecting access to justice for undocumented migrant workers?  They requested information on the State party’s efforts to increase school attendance and improve access to justice for indigenous communities.  What were the alternative detention measures in place for persons that required special care?  Experts asked for statistics on unaccompanied minors and children separated from their parents as well as information on the protection of children’s rights in the context of asylum claims.

Experts asked if persons deprived of liberty could complain safely to the Office of the Public Prosecutor.  Could it only be done centrally or was there a way for such complaints could be filed regionally?  They asked about measures to protect particularly vulnerable persons -- such as trans persons, women, and adolescents -- who were deprived of liberty.  Experts also requested statistics on the number of people held in detention, including indigenous people.  Could the delegation comment on allegations that courts set high bail amounts for people of little means?  They asked for information on the number of deaths that had occurred in detention centres and under police custody, as well as on the loss of lives during a mutiny that happened last month.

On post-abortion health care programmes, Experts sought clarification on their harmonization and compatibility with the broad prohibition of abortions that was in force in the country.  Could the delegation comment on the Committee’s recommendation that the State party amend its abortion laws?  They recalled that, last year, a 14-year-old girl had died due to pregnancy complications after being raped.  They requested information on politicization and corruption in the judicial branch; political influence over the judicial appointment system; and the composition of high-level judicial bodies.  On the bill on the protection of journalists, they enquired about the way in which it would be implemented and the State party’s reaction to allegations that it itself had not always been fully respectful of journalists’ rights.

While underscoring the excellent measures put in place to protect communities, Experts emphasized that a specific law on discrimination would be better, as it would provide, inter alia, clear avenues for redress.  There had been serious allegations made by international organizations, including the Committee against Torture, regarding the Joint Task Force.  It was important that this issue be addressed.  They asked about the vision of the family promoted by the Government and its potential discriminatory effects.  Experts also requested information on the recognition of the land rights of indigenous peoples and the number and outcomes of land disputes involving indigenous peoples.  What steps had the Government taken to improve the participation of minorities in public life?  Could the delegation provide information on voting rights of persons deprived of liberty?  

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the adoption of the law on domestic work had had a significant impact.  Paraguay had taken giant steps forward to recognize this type of work. The new law ensured that the minimum wage for domestic workers was the same as that of other workers.  It also required that domestic workers be granted a day off every week as well as holidays.  Payment in the form of coupons or IOUs was prohibited.  In that context, the Government had also launched campaigns on dignified work. 

Programmes were in place to eradicate child labour, the delegation explained.  Indigenous street children were targeted by a protection programme that sought to remedy the situation in step with children’s own beliefs.  Some protection measures could entail the separation of children from their families. There had been no cases of unaccompanied children in the country -- the children who were not with their parents were with their grandparents.  Efforts were being made to collect biometric data, which would allow the documentation of refugees, as there had been several children who had arrived in the country without identification documents.  An institutional task force was being created to address the situation of refugee children on the border and in airports.  

Turning to people with mental disabilities that were deprived of liberty, the delegation acknowledged that this issue was a challenge for the Government.  Community care was a centrepiece of the Government’s mental health care approach.  A technical commission had been tasked with putting forward recommendations to address mental health care issues.  The Government had undertaken efforts to improve the coordination of all stakeholders, promote mental health care, and raise awareness on this issue.  The confinement of people with mental health care problems was also a challenge for the penitentiary system.  A diagnosis was necessary for each person dealing with mental health issues, but there were not enough professionals to carry them out.  Due to the overcrowding of prisons, some issues remained unaddressed.  Penitentiaries had protocols to manage vulnerable individuals, including the elderly, trans persons, persons with disabilities, and indigenous persons.  

On the San Pedro riots that took place last month, the delegation stressed it had been a unique situation.  Recommendations on ways to address transnational crime would be welcome.  Different administrative measures had been taken in reaction to these events.  The prison warden had been removed and was under investigation. The Government was creating a team comprised of representatives of its three branches to address the “prison crisis.”  There were hundreds of people who could be granted early release, the delegation said.  Measures had been taken to improve prison infrastructure, which had not kept step with the increase in the prison population.  Over 70 per cent of prison inmates had not been convicted. Efforts were being made to address this issue in an inter-sectoral manner, and improve the situation country-wide.

Oversight visits to penitentiaries took place twice a year, not only in prisons but also in police stations.  In that context, data was gathered, including on detainees’ representation by an attorney.  A human rights unit in the Public Prosecutor’s Office received reports regarding allegations of torture or ill-treatment.  Such reports were processed by a centralized and specialized prosecutorial unit.  The Government was also working on a software -- a risk map-- for the prevention of torture.  As for trans individuals, special templates were used to gather information so as to ensure they received adequate services.  The same went for indigenous communities.  Elected officials were considering a series of amendments whereby preventive imprisonment would no longer be considered the rule, as this had led to overcrowding.  On domestic violence, three triggers had been identified: the consumption of alcohol, the consumption of drugs, and anger management.  There were no scientific studies explaining why domestic violence had become more prevalent in the country.  Based on meetings held with experts, programmes were nevertheless being devised to address this issue.

On freedom of expression, the three branches of Government had acceded to the Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.  This positive step had been hailed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.  There were many journalists that benefitted from police protection since a roundtable had been created, in the context of the Government accessing to this Plan of Action.  There had also been five or six public hearings with unions representing journalists.  A draft bill provided for the creation of a governmental body responsible for the protection of journalists and human rights defenders.

Indigenous issues were important for the President of the Republic.  An emergency law recognized that some of the issues outlined by Experts were real.  Land issues were complicated.  Indigenous lands could feed the world if they were harvested with medium- and long-term projects.  That was why long-term monitoring was required to see improvement in the over 800 indigenous communities of Paraguay. Statistically speaking, 70 per cent of the land in the country were in their name.  Efforts had to be made so they could effectively live on and from that land.

Concluding Remarks

MARCELO SCAPPINI, Director General for Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, said that the delegation was grateful for the Experts’ questions, which illustrated their independence, interest, care as well as their commitment to human rights.  Human rights were moving forward.  This dialogue had shown to what extent Paraguay was committed to human rights.  Mechanisms like this one were a mirror upon which Paraguay could reflect to build a better society.

AHMED AMIN FATHALLA, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation and said that the Committee would provide recommendations.  The dialogue had been fruitful and constructive.  The Committee appreciated the delegation’s frankness and that the Government used the Covenant as a basis for investigations.

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