The United Nations human rights chief today expressed concern over the recent ruling by the Court in Paraguay that convicted 11 land reform protestors, calling on the country's authorities to take urgent measures to ensure fair, independent investigations and guarantee access to justice.
“The conviction of 11 peasants in the Curuguaty case following a trial that allegedly did not respect judicial guarantees is deeply troubling,” said the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, in a news release.
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, he said.
On 15 June 2012, police raided an area, known as Marina Kue in the northeastern district of Curuguaty, which was occupied by a group of protestors. Six police officers and 11 peasants were killed in the standoff, with some 80 people wounded.
On 11 July this year, the Court sentenced four peasants for the killing of the six police officers, along with occupation of property and criminal association, to 18 to 35 years in prison. Seven other peasants received sentences of between four and six years in jail for occupation of property and criminal association.
“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.
Mr. Zeid stressed that the UN Human Rights Committee, the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its State parties, made a specific recommendation to Paraguay on this case in 2013, asking for an immediate, independent and impartial investigation.
The Committee noted “allegations of serious irregularities in the actions of the Public Prosecution Service, the judiciary and the security forces in relation to the police raid,” as well as reports of a lack of impartiality and independence in the investigations into the events.
Mr. Zeid recalled that, this past April, Paraguay committed to implementing a recommendation to create an independent investigation commission on the Curuguaty case during a review of the country's human rights situation by the Human Rights Council, a Geneva-based inter-governmental body made up of 47 UN Member States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights.
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.”
The High Commissioner also stressed the urgent need for the authorities to move the long overdue land reform forward. A 2008 census shows that some 80 per cent of the land belongs to 2.5 per cent of the population, a gap that is causing social tensions.