Truth Commission: Paraguay

Truth Commission: Truth and Justice Commission
Duration: 2004 - 2008
Charter: Ley No. 2225
Commissioners: 9
Report: Public report

 

Truth Commission: Truth and Justice Commission (Comisión Verdad y Justicia, CVJ)

Dates of Operation: June 2004 – August 2008 (4 years, 2 months). The commission’s original mandate ended December 2005 but was extended until August 2006 and later until August 2008.

Background: The decades leading up to Alfredo Stroessner's dictatorship were colored by political instability, a civil war, and a war with Bolivia. Stroessner took power in Paraguay from his military, adding to the long history of military rule. Under Stroessner’s 34-year rule, political freedom was limited, dissent was suppressed, the indigenous were assimilated, and the language of the native people was banned from education. The country found itself increasingly isolated from the international community. In February 1989, General André Rodriguez ousted Stroessner from power, and later won the Paraguayan presidential election.

Steps towards stability were taken, including the adoption of a new constitution. Paraguay returned to a civil government in 1993, but political infighting overshadowed the need to address abused of the past. Interest in creating a truth commission heightened when Dr. Martin Almada, a Paraguayan lawyer and human rights activist, accidentally uncovered tons of intelligence documents that exposed the role of Paraguayan security forces in “Operation Condór”. Operation Condór was a covert transnational military network that enabled Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, and later Peru and Ecuador to monitor, torture, “disappear” or execute political opponents across borders. The records discovered in Paraguay documented the secret establishment of the network in 1975, the existence of a joint information center at the headquarters of the Chilean secret police in Santiago as well as the involvement of General Stroessner in Operation Condor.

The files discovered in Paraguay became known as the Archive of Terror. The Truth and Justice Commission of Paraguay was established by an act of parliament in October 2003.

Charter: The Paraguayan Congress passed Ley No. 2225 (PDF-11KB) on October 15, 2003.

Mandate:
The CVJ’s mandate is to provide a historical record of abusive practices during the Stroessner dictatorship and to contribute to prosecutions of human rights crimes occurring between 1954 and 1989.

Commissioners and Structure: The CVJ is composed of nine commissioners: eight men and one woman, led by Bishop Monseñor Mario Melanio Medina.

Report: The CVJ’s final report was released on August 28, 2008 and a summary is available in Spanish on the website of the Paraguayan Human Rights Coordinator (CODEHUPY).

Findings:

Conclusions

  • The Commission based its findings on 2,059 testimonies, 14,000 documents and eight public hearings.
  • The Commission reported 19,862 arbitrary detentions, 18,772 cases of torture, at least 59 victims of summary executions, 336 forced disappearances and a total of more than 128,000 victims of the military regime.
  • The commission attributed the systematic violations to the state’s authorities who used the pretext of combating internal subversion, communism and terrorism.
  • The repression was not limited to a specific group but was directed against members of diverse political, social and cultural backgrounds.
  • 7,851,295 hectares (19,400,972 acres) of land were irregularly awarded during the Stroessner regime and the 15 following years of transition, mostly to family members, political and military allies of Stroessner.
  • In April 2006, the commission announced that Alfredo Stroessner was responsible for sixty cases of human rights violations during his regime. Civil society criticized this number to be far too low. Stroessner, at this time in Brazil, was granted the right to defend himself against the accusations.
  • Two months after the release of the final report, a soldier testified to the chairman of the Commission. This testimony revealed the existence of a secret torture chamber in the basement of the former Ministry of the Interior. Political prisoners from Paraguay, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay were probably detained there as part of the Operation Condor.

Recommendations

  • The Commission recommended continuing the search for disappeared individuals.
  • The final report also recommends establishing a center for public information as well as a genetics database.
  • Further, the Commission suggested including the findings of the report in the curriculum of public schools.
  • The Commission recommended a number of cases for formal prosecutions, including several cases on violence against women.

Subsequent Developments:

Reforms

  • In 2005, the UN Human Rights Committee reported that positive changes were made in legislation against gender discrimination, some of which were recommended by the Truth and Justice Commission.
  • The “Archive of Terror”, discovered in 1992, was preserved, and the Archive and Documentation Center for the Defense of Human Rights was created in order to safeguard and to inventory the “Archive of Terror”, the internal records produced by the Paraguayan security forces during the Stroessner regime. This was the first repository of its kind, documenting the work of Operation Condor, discovered in Latin America. (Subsequently, a similar archive was discovered in Guatemala.)

Prosecutions

  • Efforts to prosecute Stroessner failed and he died in exile in August 2006.

Reparations

  • The government initiated a program of reparations, managed by the National Commission on Human Rights. Approximately 400 individuals have received financial compensation so far, totaling $20 million USD.

Special Notes: The lack of resources was a major problem throughout the Commission’s work, especially in its early days when the Paraguayan parliament cut its budget by half. In December 2007, the government stopped the funding of the Commission and it had to suspend investigations for several months.

Sources:

June 1, 2004
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