Press Release

IACHR Brings Paraguay Case before the IA Court

February 18, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - On October 3, 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IA Court) over case 12.702, Bonifacio Ríos Avalos and Carlos Fernández Gadea, concerning Paraguay.

The case relates to a series of violations during the political trials that culminated in the victims being removed from their positions as justices of the Supreme Court of Justice of Paraguay in 2003.

In Merits Report 17/19, the IACHR found that the state violated the right to a competent authority through pre-established procedures. On this point, the IACHR noted that after the victims had been charged, the Senate issued Resolution No. 122, which not only established the Regulations for Procedures for Political Trials but also established other related regulations that had a significant impact on the exercise of the right to defense and other aspects relating to guarantees of due process. Specifically, in these regulations, the Senate established that, among other things: (i) challenges to the disciplinary body would not be permitted; (ii) the Senate’s decision could not be appealed; (iii) each accused’s defense could not take longer than three hours; and (iv) the victims would be notified of the charges on Wednesday, November 26, 2003, and would have until Monday, December 1, 2003, to prepare their defense strategy and provide evidence—in other words, two working days.

Furthermore, the IACHR concluded that the state violated the right to an impartial judge, given that the regulations that were issued did not allow the disciplinary body to be challenged, in other words, its impartiality could not be called into question, which is particularly important in this case given that the victims alleged they were tried on discriminatory grounds.

The IACHR also declared that the principle of judicial independence, the principle of legality, and the right to well-founded decisions had been violated, since the decision to dismiss the victims did not include a statement of the reasons for this and instead merely indicated that the motion to remove them had been approved. Moreover, the grounds invoked to dismiss them for misconduct were extremely vague and gave a wide margin of discretion to the disciplinary authority responsible for implementing them. This made it possible for the Chamber of Deputies to include a series of judicial decisions in its accusation against the victims that relate to their judicial decisions and are protected by the principle of judicial independence.

Finally, the IACHR concluded that the state violated the right to appeal the ruling and the right to judicial protection, since the Regulations for Procedures for Political Trials stated that the resolutions issued by the Senate as a court could not be appealed. Despite this, the victims filed claims of unconstitutionality before the Supreme Court of Justice, which ruled favorably on these on December 30, 2009, that is, over six years later, without the state having justified this delay on the grounds that it protected fundamental rights. However, on January 5, 2010, the Supreme Court of Justice declared these favorable rulings to be invalid, arguing that the judges who issued them did not comply with the appropriate legal requirements in doing so. This decision was issued three days after Congress approved Resolution No. 1, which emphatically condemned the spirit of the decisions in question and warned the justices of the Supreme Court of Justice and other officials that political charges would be pressed against them if they were to accept the sentence as being valid. The IACHR concluded that this resolution, which was issued by the body that removed the alleged victims from office in the context and manner described above, constituted a source of external pressure that led the Supreme Court of Justice to declare the rulings to be invalid.

In view of this, the IACHR concluded that the state of Paraguay was responsible for the violation of the rights enshrined in articles 8.1, 8.2(h), 9, and 25.1 of the American Convention in relation to the obligations established in articles 1.1 and 2 of the same instrument.

In its Merits Report, the IACHR made the following recommendations to the state of Paraguay:

1. Provide Bonifacio Ríos Avalos a similar position within the judiciary to the one he once held, if he so wishes, with the same remuneration and social benefits and a rank on par with that which he would have held today had he not been removed from office. If there are reasonable grounds preventing him from being offered such a position, he must be provided with alternative compensation. As Carlos Fernández Gadea is now deceased, alternative compensation must be provided.

2. Provide comprehensive tangible and intangible redress for the human rights violations set out in the Merits Report.

3. Adapt the country’s domestic legislation to ensure that disciplinary proceedings against judicial personnel are compatible with the standards for judicial independence set out in the Merits Reports and that these comply with all guarantees of due process and the principle of legality. Specifically, the necessary measures should be taken to: (i) ensure that disciplinary proceedings against judges are subject to legal rather than political oversight; (ii) regulate the applicable sanctions to ensure that they comply with the principle of legality; (iii) allow judges to appeal any disciplinary proceedings against them, such that they can receive a second opinion on the sanction imposed on them, and provide them with a mechanism for appealing possible violations of due process; and (iv) adopt the necessary measures to ensure that the authorities overseeing disciplinary proceedings against judges give well-founded reasons for their decisions in a manner that is consistent with the American Convention, as discussed in the Merits Report.

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 and to defend 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. 043/20