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‘Widely practised’ police torture in Paraguay must be fully criminalized: UN expert

‘Widely practised’ police torture in Paraguay must be fully criminalized: UN expert

Torture is still widely used in police custody in Paraguay, an independent United Nations rights expert has warned, calling for the practice to be fully criminalized, measures put in place to prevent it, and all perpetrators to be prosecuted.

However conditions in prisons have greatly improved in recent years, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, said in a statement after concluding an eight-day visit to Paraguay during which he made unannounced visits to police stations and detention facilities.

“On the basis of numerous interviews with detainees and witnesses as well as medical evidence, he concludes that torture is still widely practised during the first days of police custody. In particular, the use of torture to obtain confessions seems to be a standard practice of the criminal investigation police at Ciudad del Este,” the statement said, referring to one of the regional penitentiary centres.

It added that the Government “should take active steps to implement its obligation to effectively investigate every suspected case of torture and to ensure that evidence which may have been obtained by torture is not relied upon in criminal proceedings.”

While torture is still widely practised in police custody, the situation in prisons has improved greatly over recent years, according to the statement, which welcomes the prison inspections carried out by the three inter-institutional commissions but notes “excessive use of isolation cells to punish detainees.”

Mr. Nowak, who visited from 22-29 November, also held talks with government officials and representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and he acknowledged that the country had come a long way in overcoming the legacy of military dictatorship, in particular through the 1992 Constitution and the efforts of the Truth and Justice Commission.

However, he said stronger measures were needed to prevent torture and safeguard human rights, and in particular called for the definition of torture in Paraguay’s criminal code to be widened to comply with Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture, so that the practice would be fully criminalized with the appropriate penalties.

He also called for efforts to investigate every suspected case of torture and bring the perpetrators to justice and introduce measures aimed at preventing torture, such as medical documentation of torture allegations, access to lawyers, and monitoring of interrogation methods.

Mr. Nowak also recommended providing detainees and prisoners with basic necessities, such as adequate food, health care, more work opportunities, education and recreational activities, and also called on the Government to “eradicate corruption in the prison system.”

In addition, the Special Rapporteur recommends that all relevant “UN bodies, donor Governments and development agencies assist the Government of Paraguay in its efforts to modernize its police and prison system” through training and constructing new facilities.

Mr. Nowak, who was appointed Special Rapporteur in December 2004, will now submit a comprehensive written report on his visit to the Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur he is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity.