Paraguay is a multiparty, constitutional democracy. Citizens elected Fernando Lugo of the Patriotic Alliance for Change as president in April 2008 in a generally fair and free election. The government generally respected human rights with some notable exceptions, including: killings and arbitrary arrests by the police; corruption, inefficiency, and external interference in the judiciary; lengthy pretrial detention; trafficking in persons; and lack of enforcement of labor laws.
The U.S. strategy to promote democracy and human rights focuses on: combating corruption and strengthening democratic institutions and respect for the rule of law, including building the capacity of the government to undertake legislative and judicial reforms. In developing strategy priorities, U.S. officials consult with government institutions, NGOs, labor unions, and other organizations, and work closely with these groups to encourage reforms and discuss problems related to human rights and democracy. Promoting a free and fair April 2008 presidential election was an immediate priority; the elections were generally free and fair. U.S. government priorities also include supporting efforts to combat trafficking in persons. The United States uses diplomatic engagement, public outreach, foreign assistance programs, and related activities to advance strategy objectives.
To support a free and fair presidential election, the U.S. government has provided technical and financial assistance, including support for campaign monitoring and election observation, focusing on party finance reform and transparency. The United States has made financial contributions to cover costs for international and domestic electoral observers. This has included support to an NGO partner and an international organization to deploy separate international observation missions. The United States uses public diplomacy to advance awareness about the importance of elections and other democracy and human rights topics through press conferences with journalists and meetings with local and national political leaders.
U.S. efforts to promote just and democratic governance are also directed at combating corruption, increasing accountability and transparency in local government, and encouraging respect for the rule of law. U.S. programs, actions, and activities to combat impunity include financial assistance and technical support to civil society organizations, the Finance and Customs ministries, the comptroller, local governments, and justice sector institutions. For example, U.S. technical assistance to the attorney general's office has improved coordination and the successful prosecution of corruption cases, including the conviction of several high-ranking public officials. U.S. officials also provide training and advice to the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank to foster transparency and accountability. The U.S. embassy hosts antimoney laundering conferences to encourage a culture of lawfulness and raise public awareness about combating corruption.
U.S. government support for law reform has helped the government approve a new penal code that contains strong provisions for prosecuting money laundering and trafficking in persons. U.S. officials also advise the multiparty congressional committee, tasked with drafting the new criminal procedure code, on pretrial and criminal procedure rules and procedures for enforcing court decisions. U.S. government programs also train judges, prosecutors, and investigators on trial advocacy, evidence, investigation, and interviewing techniques.
To identify key constraints on democracy and respect for the rule of law, the embassy manages a high impact technical assistance program that supports two civil society organizations focusing on consolidating the judicial ethics code. Through U.S. assistance, the supreme court has established customer service desks and a telephone hot line to respond to citizen questions about access to justice; many of the callers are women, youth, and persons from indigenous communities seeking assistance regarding domestic violence and discrimination.
The U.S. uses the Millennium Challenge Corporation Threshold Program to promote transparency and responsive government by strengthening the investigative capability of the prosecutor and the Finance Ministry. These efforts build the capacity of the judicial disciplinary system and promote accountability and transparency.
U.S. officials work closely with the government and NGOs involved in combating trafficking in persons, assisting the government to raise public awareness of the problem and develop a national database for managing trafficking cases. The U.S. funded the opening of a new women's shelter in Asuncion for trafficking victims, as well as a project to combat trafficking along Paraguay's border with Argentina and Brazil. The project has been holding informational seminars for government officials on methods of combating trafficking and promoting government and civil society collaboration in fighting the problem. In March 2008 the Paraguayan citizen who coordinates the project was given the 2008 U.S. Secretary of State's International Women of Courage Award for her efforts to focus public attention on combating trafficking.