The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Paraguay is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Paraguay is also a party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Paraguay is a State Party to the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. Article 15 governs the right of assembly:
The right of peaceful assembly, without arms, is recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and necessary in a democratic society in the interest of national security, public safety or public order, or to protect public health or morals or the rights or freedom of others.
Paraguay has accepted the competence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to hear complaints by individuals under the jurisdiction of the State that their rights under the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights have been violated.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 32 of the 1992 Constitution of Paraguay (as amended) governs freedom of assembly and demonstration:
Persons have the right to meet and to demonstrate peacefully, without weapons and with licit ends, without the need of a permit, as well as the right not to be obligated to participate in such acts. The law may only regulate its exercise in places of public traffic, [and] at certain hours, preserving the rights of third parties and the public order established by the law.
Local laws may restrict the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly in accordance with the constitutional provisions.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Police use of force is regulated under the Manual on the Use of Force. It provides that the police
can and should use the necessary force to fulfill their mandate. However, excessive or inappropriate use of force may mean administrative, civil and/or criminal liability. Therefore, force should be used only when strictly necessary.
It is stipulated that:
The use of a chemical agent, such as gas or pepper spray, may become necessary when police personnel reasonably believe that other force options would be inappropriate or ineffective to control alleged resistant or combative offenders, as well as to reduce the chances of physical injuries of the individuals involved. Tear gas or pepper spray should not be used against alleged perpetrators who demonstrate peacefully. In these cases, it can only be used when authorized as part of a crowd control strategy.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
With respect to firearms, the Manual on the Use of Force provides that:
Police personnel may be forced to use lethal force to protect themselves or others when they reasonably believe, based on the facts and circumstances given, that there is an imminent threat of death or severe physical injury. Police personnel may use lethal force to carry out an arrest or to prevent the flight of an alleged perpetrator, provided there is a high probability that the alleged perpetrator poses a significant and immediate threat of death or severe physical injury to the police or others, unless it is stopped without delay.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Both the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture have criticised the policing of assemblies in Paraguay in recent years. In its 2019 Concluding Observations on Paraguay, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern about reports of torture, ill-treatment, excessive use of force and arbitrary detention by law enforcement and security officers during the demonstrations that took place in Asunción on 31 March and 1 April 2017.
In its 2017 Concluding observations on Paraguay, the Committee against Torture expressed its concern
by reports alleging the disproportionate use of force by the national police, including acts of torture and ill-treatment inflicted upon arrested persons, during the riots that occurred in connection with the protests in Asunción on 31 March and 1 April 2017.
The Committee was also concerned about the alleged extrajudicial killing of political leader Rodrigo Quintana during that police operation.
Paraguay did not address the issue of peaceful assembly in its national report for its 2015 Universal Periodic Review under the Human Rights Council.
Florentina Olmedo v. Paraguay
This case concerned an agricultural worker, Blanco Dominguez, who took part in a peaceful demonstration in Paraguay in 2003 in favour of agrarian reform. The demonstrators came face to face with a police barrier and decided to blockade the road. The prosecutor ordered the leaders of the demonstration to unblock the road, and told them that if they failed to do so it would be cleared by force. While negotiations were underway, the prosecutor ordered the road to be cleared. The police attack was immediate and violent, and involved use of tear gas, firearms, and water cannon. The police beat many demonstrators, fired indiscriminately at those who were fleeing, and violently broke into and damaged various nearby houses, beating severely any persons they managed to catch. Both metal-jacketed and rubber bullets were used indiscriminately.
Mr Dominguez had been at the head of the demonstration and, along with other demonstrators, had peacefully surrendered to the police, kneeling down with his hands up. While he was in this position, an officer of the National Police shot him in the back at very close range. After he fell to the ground, he was hit on the head by the police. After two operations, Blanco Dominguez died on 5 June 2003. In finding a violation of the right to life, the Human Rights Committee reiterated Paraguay’s obligation to protect the life of the demonstrators.
In 2017, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed deep concern over the serious acts of violence and repression that have occurred in the context of protests in Asunción. It urged the authorities to meet their international obligations
to respect and guarantee human rights in this context, particularly the full exercise of the rights to life, integrity, and personal liberty of the demonstrators, and the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and political participation.
Views of Civil Society
According to CIVICUS's report on Paraguay:
Although it is constitutionally guaranteed, the right to peaceful assembly is limited by laws imposing restrictions on the time and location in which demonstrations can take place. The government continues to intimidate protestors, especially students demanding better education, and the police use excessive force against peasants and union workers. Repression has not curtailed the exercise of the right however. On 10 December 2014, International Human Rights Day, thousands – including teachers, public employees, farm workers and human rights advocates – marched in the capital Asunción to protest against homelessness, poverty, and unemployment, and to demand the president’s resignation. Recently, a union protest was met with excessive force by the police, leaving more than 20 people injured.