Press Release

IACHR Takes Case involving Paraguay to the Inter-American Court

December 21, 2017

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Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case 12.685, Juan Francisco Arrom Suhurt, Anuncio Martí Méndez, and Families, with regard to Paraguay.

The case has to do with the forced disappearance and torture of Juan Francisco Arrom Suhurt and Anuncio Martí Méndez, leaders of the Patria Libre political movement, in the period from January 17 to 30, 2002. Both men reported that they were arrested by State agents who interrogated them constantly about their political activities and pressured them so that they would plead guilty to the kidnapping of María Edith Bordón de Debernardi, who had been abducted days before and for whose release a large sum of money was being demanded. The petitioners recounted that their family members set out to look for them until they discovered their whereabouts. On December 1, 2003, both men obtained refugee status in Brazil. Furthermore, in the judicial case to investigate the kidnapping of María Edith Bordón, both men were declared to be in contempt of court because of their failure to appear.

The Commission concluded that the State of Paraguay is responsible for violating human rights protected in the American Convention on Human Rights, the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons, and the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture.

The Paraguayan authorities did not act with due diligence either when they learned of the possible disappearance of Juan Francisco Arrom Suhurt and Anuncio Martí Méndez or during the investigation. They failed to proactively open an investigation, and they violated the principle of the victims’ presumption of innocence by issuing official propaganda that described them as responsible for a kidnapping without a final conviction. Moreover, there are multiple elements that point to the direct participation of State agents, elements that were not diligently investigated. The IACHR found this participation to be established fact.

In its Merits Report on the case, the Commission recommended to Paraguay that it provide full redress for the human rights violations, adopting measures for economic compensation and satisfaction, and that it arrange for physical and mental health rehabilitation measures for Juan Arrom and Anuncio Martí if they so wished and in agreement with them. Considering that they are in Brazil, it is incumbent to pay a specific amount to cover their medical services in that country. Paraguay should also reopen and complete the criminal investigation diligently, effectively, and within a reasonable time frame to fully clarify the facts, identify all those potentially responsible, and impose the appropriate penalties in regard to the human rights violations laid out in the report. In terms of non-repetition mechanisms, the Commission recommended strengthening the investigative capacity of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, especially for cases involving serious human rights violations, to ensure that investigations are opened proactively and carried out with due diligence. It also recommended that any actions of the Public Prosecutor’s Office that could definitively eliminate the possibility of investigating serious human rights violations be subject to judicial control, and that the necessary measures be adopted to ensure that in the course of investigations and criminal cases, all authorities fulfill their obligation to respect the presumption of innocence and refrain from stigmatizing those being prosecuted in the context of searching for them.

The Inter-American Commission submitted the case to the Inter-American Court’s jurisdiction on December 12, 2017, because it deemed that Paraguay had not complied with the recommendations contained in the Merits Report.

This case will enable the Inter-American Court to expand case law in cases involving forced disappearance of persons and torture. While such violations have been addressed extensively in the case law of the Commission and the Court, this case did not take place in the context of a dictatorship or armed conflict with systematic human rights violations; this means that the Court will be able to expand on the applicable evidentiary standards, and especially the concrete implications of the lack of a serious and diligent investigation into indications of State participation. In addition, the case will allow the Court to expand its case law in relation to the principle of presumption of innocence in circumstances in which different State agents have made public statements about the criminal responsibility of someone who has not been convicted by means of a final decision.

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 the respect for and defense of 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. 216/17