UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said on Wednesday he was concerned at the recent judgement rendered in the high-profile Curuguaty case in Paraguay.
“The conviction of 11 peasants in the Curuguaty case following a trial that allegedly did not respect judicial guarantees is deeply troubling. Over the past four years, several human rights bodies and civil society organizations have warned against serious irregularities in the investigation, including allegations of violations of due process and the right to defense,” said the High Commissioner.
On 15 June 2012, 11 peasants – who were part of a larger group of some 60 protestors occupying an area of land – as well as six policemen were killed during a police raid near an area of land known as Marina Kue in the northeastern district of Curuguaty. Some 80 people were also wounded.
On 11 July 2016, the Court sentenced the four peasants under investigation for the homicide of the six police officers, occupation of property and criminal association to prison terms ranging from 18 to 35 years. Seven others received sentences of between four and six years in jail for occupation of property and criminal association. The decision was announced on 18 July.
“I’m also deeply concerned by the fact that, up to now, the deaths of 11 peasants, killed in the same incident, have not been investigated by Paraguayan authorities, nor have the allegations that some were summarily executed after being subjected to torture and other human rights violations,” he added.
The High Commissioner stressed that the UN Human Rights Committee made a specific recommendation to Paraguay on this case in 2013 asking for an immediate, independent and impartial investigation, noting “allegations of serious irregularities in the actions of the Public Prosecution Service, the judiciary and the security forces in relation to the police raid in Curuguaty in June 2012,” as well as reports of a lack of impartiality and independence in the investigations into the events.*
The High Commissioner also noted that Paraguay committed to implementing a recommendation made during the country’s Universal Periodic Review** in April 2016 asking for the creation of an independent investigation commission into all credible allegations of human rights violations related to the Curuguaty case. In this regard, he said his Office was ready to provide all the necessary technical assistance to Paraguay.
He urged the Paraguayan authorities to “take urgent measures to guarantee that victims have access to justice and ensure that independent investigations are carried out into all alleged human rights violations, in accordance with international standards and obligations.”
He also called on the authorities to put an end to the impunity that has so far prevailed for the murder in December 2012 of Vidal Vega, a peasant leader and a key witness in the Curuguaty events. He also expressed his strong support to the call made by the UN Human Rights Committee and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights*** for effective protection for human rights defenders whose safety is at risk because of their activities.
The High Commissioner also stressed “the urgent need for the authorities to move the long overdue land reform forward, as land ownership remains one of the most critical issues in Paraguay and a major source of social tensions.” A 2008 census shows that some 80 percent of the land belongs to 2.5 percent of the population.
* The 2013 Human Rights Committee’s findings on Paraguay are available here: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR/C/PRY/CO/3&Lang=En
** The UPR findings on Paraguay can be found here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/PYSession24.aspx
*** The press release issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on 4 December 2012 can be found here: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2012/141.asp