Press Release

IACHR Commends the Identification of Human Remains of Victims of Enforced Disappearance in Paraguay

September 16, 2016

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) considers a fundamental breakthrough the announcement made in Paraguay regarding the identification of human remains of three victims of enforced disappearance during the 1970s. The IACHR salutes the work done by Argentina and Paraguay, which led to the identification, for the first time, of victims of forced disappearance crime committed in Paraguayan territory.

The identification of human remains of Miguel Angel Soler, Rafaella Filipazzo and Jose Agustin Potenza constitute an essential step in the direction of shedding light in the search for truth and justice regarding the severe violations of human rights perpetrated during Alfredo Stroessner’s dictatorship (1954-1989) in Paraguay, as well as in the context of Plan Condor. Under Plan Condor, the authoritarian governments of the Southern Cone coordinated their illegal operations of kidnapping, torture, unlawfully arrest and forced disappearance of political dissidents.

On August, 30, 2016, the director of the Direction of Historical Memory and Reparation of the Paraguayan Ministry of Justice, Rogelio Goiburu, announced in a press conference that the remains of Miguel Angel Soler and Rafaella Filipazzi had been identified. On September 8, this office announced that Jose Agustin Potenza had also been identified. The identification of the three persons was possible after human remains were exhumed from a common grave located at the headquarters of the Specialized Group of the National Police of Paraguay. This place was used as torture center during Stroessner’s dictatorship and excavations took place between 2006 and 2013. After the exhumation, authorities sent skeletal remains fragments belonging to more than 20 bodies to the Argentinian Embassy in Asuncion, from where they were sent using diplomatic pouch to Argentina, where they were examined by the Argentinian Team of Forensic Anthropology. The identification was achieved using the National Genetic Data Bank.

“It is of outmost importance and we recognize as a fundamental step the identification of the remains of Miguel Angel Soler, Rafaella Filipazzi and  Jose Agustin Potenza for the establishment of the historical truth on the grave crimes committed during the Paraguayan dictatorship and in the frame of the Plan Condor, under which dictatorships coordinated kidnappings, torture, extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances,” said the President of the Commission, James Cavallaro.

Rafaela Filipazzi was born in Italy, settled in Argentina and married Jose Agustin Potenza, a musician and Peronist militant. Both escaped to Uruguay after the 1976 military coup. They were kidnapped in June of 1977 in a hotel in Montevideo by a group of Paraguayan agents, in coordination with the Uruguayan security forces in the frame of Plan Condor, and then shipped to Asuncion, according to an investigation by the Uruguayan Government.  People who were detained with Rafaela Filipazzi testified to the Truth and Justice Commission of Paraguay and before a Court in Argentina, saying they had seen her and José Agustín Potenza detained in the Center of Investigations of the National Police. She was later seen in the El Buen Pastor jail, with signs of having been tortured. The case of her disappearance has been under investigation by an Argentine court in the province of Corrientes since 1984. “We have been looking for our relatives for 40 years,” said Rafaela Filipazzi’s daughter to the press. “I talk about getting some peace because this is not finished until I know what happened, why she was kidnapped, why she was mistreated and murdered, leaving me orphaned when I was only 12 years old,” she added. Rafaela Filipazzi’s and Jose Potenza’s skeletons were exhumed from the same common grave on May 19, 2013, according to official information.

Miguel Angel Soler was a member of the Partido Revolucionario Febrerista and he was later the Secretary-General of the Paraguayan Communist Party. He had been detained and tortured in 1954, year of the military coup, after which he escaped to Argentina. He was kidnapped during a visit to Asuncion in November of 1975. The IACHR received a petition in February of 1976 claiming that Miguel Angel Soler was under solitary confinement in an underground cell, where he had been brutally tortured, and that he had gone missing in December. The Commission determined the case was a severe violation of the rights to freedom, security and integrity of Miguel Angel Soler and asked for his immediate release. At the time, the Paraguayan State denied having knowledge of his whereabouts. Miguel Angel Soler’s widow presented another petition to the IACHR in 1995 for the lack of judicial investigation and justice, and the case was object of a friendly settlement process. Later, the former chief of the Department of Investigations, Pastor Coronel, and other three former leaders of the Paraguayan Police were sentenced and condemned for the illegal capture, torture and disappearance of Miguel Angel Soler. Miguel Angel Soler’s widow died without having been able to know the whereabouts of her husband. Her son, Jorge Soler, who works in the Archive of Memory in Argentina that operates in the former torture center ESMA said to the press that the recognition of his father’s remains helps him to get some closure and that he now wants to participate in the excavations of common graves in Paraguay to help find the body remains of other victims.

The excavations in Paraguay are currently paralyzed for the lack of funding, as informed by the Rogelio Goiburu, head of the Direction of Historical Memory and Reparation, whose father was also a victim of forced disappearance during the Paraguayan dictatorship. “We have at least 12 additional places to excavate where we know there are graves of victims of forced disappeared in Itapúa, Caazapá, Caaguazú, San Pedro, Paraguarí. But we cannot excavate because we don’t have the financial resources,” he said.

“Miguel Angel Soler’s widow died without being able to bury her husband’s remains. Rafaella Filipazzi’s mother died without being able to bury her daughter’s remains. They spent 40 years looking for their loved ones,” said the IACHR Rapporteur for Paraguay, Commissioner Paulo Vannuchi.  “Many other relatives are still looking. The Commission for Truth and Justice of Paraguay identified 348 cases of enforced disappearances and other sources inform that number could be more than 500. We call the States in the region to help with the needed financial and human resources to move towards the identification of remains of victims of forced disappearances, and to continue the progress towards truth, justice and reparations’, Vannuchi added.

The IACHR also urges all the countries in the region that have not done so to ratify the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons of 1994 and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance approved by United Nations in 2006.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 133/16