Peasant farmers handed heavy sentences after 2012 protest
On 12th June 2012, six police officers and nine peasant farmers (campesinos) were killed in an operation by around 250 members of the Specialized Police Forces to break up a land occupation, in which around 60 campesinos were protesting. The event became known as the Curuguaty Massacre. After a long trial, on 11th July 2016, 11 campesinos were found guilty of first degree murder, land invasion and other crimes, and sentenced to jail terms of up to 35 years. No members of the police force were indicted.
Many civil society organisations publicly expressed their disagreement with the ruling. Concerns were expressed that the trial had not followed due process and had been partial and unfair. Security forces were accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings under the guise of the operation. Impunity for attacks on campesinos remains an enduring concern in a country where a small elite controls 80 per cent of the land.
The Paraguay Human Rights Coalition (CODEHUPY) rejected the ruling, arguing that the trial lacked due process, and the criminal responsibility of the accused persons was not sufficiently proved. The Rural Network for the Right to Land stated that once more it had been demonstrated that the criminalisation of the fight for land is a sad and painful reality in Paraguay. The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, also expressed concern about irregularities and lack of impartiality in the investigation into the killings.
On 4th April 2016, a public hearing about the Right to Freedom of Association in Paraguay took place during the 157th Session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The petitioners, a group of national, regional and international trade union bodies, provided information on the policies and practices of the State of Paraguay to deny and delay the registration of labour unions. They presented information on the legislative obstacles that hinder registration, including limitations on the types of unions that may be established, requirements for a minimum number of members, and conditions on who may serve on boards of directors, among others. Government representatives rejected these concerns and responded that the Labour Ministry has granted a reasonable number of union registrations, and has made substantial progress on the mediation of collective disputes. Government representatives also pointed out that Paraguay has ratified a number of international treaties on the subject and that the Constitution of Paraguay recognises the right to the freedom of association. The IACHR expressed concern over repression and limitations on the exercise of unionised workers’ rights to protest, and asked for further information in order to be able to act as a mediator.
Paraguay approved an Access to Information Law in 2015 and several civil society organisations are working to promote the law, which gives citizens the right to request information from government bodies. However, at the same time, Paraguay's Senate approved a bill on the protection of children and adolescents in relation to internet content. According to various civil society organisations, the bill jeopardises the right to the freedom of expression and has legal, technical and proportionality problems.
As a result of a strong international campaign, on 27th April 2016 a Bill on Freedom of Expression and Protection of Journalists and Press Workers was presented to Congress. The bill seeks to guarantee the life, integrity, freedom and security of all people who are at risk for practising journalism. The threat to journalists is severe in Paraguay: since 1991, 17 journalists have been murdered, and in many of these cases, the crimes have gone unpunished. Journalists experience particular risks when reporting on organised crime, drug trafficking and corruption.