There were allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in the context of policies implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Indigenous Peoples continued to be overlooked in public policies, as did their rights to territory. Children and adolescents continued to face obstacles in accessing their rights, including their right to protection from sexual abuse and access to comprehensive sexuality education from the state. A new anti-discrimination law and criminal complaints against the treatment of LGBTI people made no progress in the year. Human rights defenders continued to lack an official protection mechanism.
Right to health
In April, the authorities placed thousands of people, mostly Paraguayans returning after losing their jobs in the informal sector in Brazil, in mandatory government-run quarantine centres. Early on, reports of inadequate conditions, including lack of robust information about procedures, inadequate staffing, insufficient sanitary supplies and food were particularly concerning. Some of these health and food concerns improved over time.1
The health system proved precarious and poorly prepared to address COVID-19 and other diseases. Several allegations of corruption in relation to public purchases of medical supplies were under investigation at the end of the year.
Health workers reported that they did not have sufficient personal protection equipment or adequate working conditions to enable them to work in a safe environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.2
Torture and other ill-treatment
Between March and June, the authorities deployed 24,000 police officers and at least 3,000 military personnel to, among other things, enforce COVID-19 lockdown measures and patrol borders. There were several reports of ill-treatment and humiliating or degrading punishment inflicted by members of the security forces enforcing lockdown measures.3
On 15 and 16 July, a military operation in the town of Ciudad del Este designed to enforce lockdown measures resulted in a shooting incident in which a member of the Navy was killed. Another operation followed, apparently in retaliation for the death of the marine, which resulted in the detention of 35 people and allegations of torture and other ill-treatment at a naval base. The authorities opened an investigation into the incident, but by the end of the year no official had been charged.
On 2 September, two 11-year-old girls of Argentine nationality died during an operation by the Joint Task Force (FTC) in the department of Concepción. The FTC initially alleged they had killed members of the Paraguayan People’s Army, an armed opposition group. However, evidence emerged that the people killed were girls, and the prosecutor’s investigation contained several flaws in its forensic handling of the bodies, as well as a failure to comply fully with the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death during the investigation of the deaths.
Indigenous Peoples’ Rights
In compliance with an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling, an expropriation law was passed in 2019 to allow the construction of a road for the Yakye Axa community to access their lands. However, the law had technical flaws and was amended and promulgated by the Executive on 9 September. Construction of the road resumed in September.
Lands were not returned to the Tekoha Sauce community of the Avá Guaraní People, who had been evicted on two occasions in previous years, one of them to permit the construction of a hydroelectric power plant in Itaipú. A legal action for eviction of the community, filed by the bi-national (Brazilian/Paraguayan) Itaipú company in 2019, remained active throughout 2020, posing a threat to the Avá Guaraní People’s human rights.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the authorities did not implement sufficient and culturally relevant measures for Indigenous Peoples. They also failed to mitigate Indigenous Peoples’ lack of access to food, water and medicine in a comprehensive manner.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people
There was no progress during the year in criminal complaints relating to attacks against LGBTI people during a 2019 Pride march in the city of Hernandarias. The municipality of Hernandarias had banned the march for being “contrary to public morality”. There was also no progress in the constitutional challenge presented by Amnesty International in October 2019 against this and another resolution declaring the city “pro-life and pro-family”, both decisions of the municipality of Hernandarias.
A bill against all forms of discrimination, presented in 2015, made no progress during the year.
Human rights defenders
Paraguay had yet to ratify the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice on Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (the Escazú Agreement), which includes strong protections for Indigenous Peoples and for environmental defenders. The authorities also did not establish a mechanism for the protection of human rights defenders, nor did they disseminate the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
In December, the Senate approved a declaration that recognized the work of human rights defenders to be “of national interest”.
Rights of children and adolescents
The authorities did not implement sufficient and effective measures to prevent, identify and address cases of sexual exploitation and abuse of children. The Public Prosecutor’s Office registered 1,877 reports of sexual abuse of children in the first nine months of the year.
The authorities fell short of guaranteeing the sexual and reproductive rights of adolescents. As of August, the Ministry of Health registered 339 births to girls aged between 10 and 14 and 9,382 births to adolescents aged between 15 and 19.
Anti-rights groups harshly questioned the National Plan for Children and Adolescents (2020-2024), which includes objectives on sexual abuse, prevention of violence, and comprehensive sexuality education. In December, following criticism from anti-rights groups, the Chamber of Deputies ordered the Minister for Children and Adolescents (SNNA) to appear for questioning in Congress.
The judiciary did not guarantee the right to due process or ensure a gender perspective in cases of sexual harassment of women. The case of Alexa Torres, a young woman harassed by a priest, came to trial in 2020. Even though the tribunal acknowledged her account of the facts as true, the judges ruled that it did not constitute harassment and dismissed the complaint in favour of the priest. In December, an appeals court overturned the ruling and ordered a new trial.
- When protection becomes repression: Mandatory quarantines under COVID-19 in the Americas (AMR 01/2991/2020)
- The cost of curing: Health workers’ rights in the Americas during COVID-19 and beyond (AMR 01/2311/2020)
- Américas: Las Autoridades deben proteger a la población del COVID-19 en lugar de recurrir a medidas represivas (Press release, 16 May)