Paraguay is a multiparty, constitutional republic. In April 2018 Mario Abdo Benitez of the Colorado Party, also known as the National Republican Association (ANR), won the presidency in elections recognized as free and fair. Legislative elections took place at the same time.
The National Police, under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, are responsible for preserving public order, protecting the rights and safety of persons and entities and their property, preventing and investigating crimes, and implementing orders given by the judiciary and public officials. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included reports of torture by government officials; harsh and at times life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; substantial problems with the independence of the judiciary; violent intimidation of journalists by organized-crime groups; widespread corruption in all branches and levels of government; widespread and sometimes lethal violence against women and, to a lesser extent, indigenous persons, despite government efforts to curtail such acts; discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; and child labor, particularly in domestic service and informal agricultural sectors.
The government took steps to prosecute and punish low- and mid-rank officials who committed abuses, but general impunity for officials in the police and security forces continued to be widely alleged.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The law and constitution provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press for the most part, although widespread corruption in the judiciary hindered protections in court.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists occasionally suffered harassment, intimidation, and violence, primarily from drug trafficking gangs and criminal groups, but also from politicians and police. Media and international NGOs reported several such incidents against journalists. In July, following a meeting at the Asuncion City Council, a taxi-union leader called journalists “callous” and said they should be “executed using cannon balls.” Later in July, during taxi-driver-led protests against Uber, a member of the union pushed and groped a female journalist. Prosecutors opened an investigation against the alleged aggressor.
Brazilian drug trafficker Felipe “Baron” Escurra Rodriguez, who had reportedly planned to kill well known journalist Candido Figueredo Ruiz for reporting on Escurra’s illicit activities along the border with Brazil, remained at large despite police efforts to recapture him.
In December 2018 an appeals chamber in the department of Canindeyu upheld the sentence of Vilmar “Neneco” Acosta Marques, a former mayor of Ypejhu, who was sentenced to 29 years in prison for instigating his brother Wilson Acosta Marques and nephew Flavio Acosta Riveros to kill ABC Color journalist Pablo Medina and his assistant, Antonia Chaparro. Flavio Acosta Riveros, the alleged killer, remained in a Brazilian prison, where he was on trial for Medina’s murder. Brazilian law prohibits his extradition to Paraguay.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
f. Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
Durable Solutions: Authorities permitted persons whose asylum or refugee status cases were refused to seek other migration options, including obtaining legal permanent residency in the country or returning to the most recent point of embarkation. The government did not assist in the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes but rather relied on assistance from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to facilitate such returns.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. Officials engaged frequently in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption in all branches and at all levels of government remained widespread, with investigative journalists and NGOs reporting on hundreds of cases of embezzlement, tax evasion, illicit enrichment, breach of public confidence, falsifying documents, and criminal association. Criminal cases typically spent several years in the courts. Under a law that prohibits court cases from lasting longer than four years, politicians and influential individuals convicted in lower courts routinely avoided punishment by filing appeals and motions until reaching the statute of limitation or by successfully requesting the removal or suspension of judges and prosecutors working on their cases. Although indictments and convictions for corruption of low- and mid-level public officials occurred more frequently, high-ranking public officials enjoyed a high degree of impunity. In addition, politicization and corruption were pervasive throughout the judicial branch, particularly in the lower courts and regional offices, hampering the institution’s effectiveness and undermining public trust.
Corruption: Impunity was endemic for former and current high-level government officials accused of crimes. NGOs and the press continued to report on several former government ministers, mayors, governors, and current elected officials who had avoided prosecution in the justice system despite being accused of, and indicted for, corruption and other crimes. In May a judge sentenced former legislator Victor Bogado to one year in prison for using Senate staff salary funds to pay for his household nanny. Bogado avoided serving time in prison due to alternative measures legislation that allow convicts sentenced to less than two years of imprisonment to receive immediate release in cases of good behavior. As of November 1, there were 17 unresolved cases involving six former ministers and mayors, 10 former and current members of congress, and one former Supreme Court justice.
Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires all public employees, including elected officials and employees of independent government entities, to disclose their income and assets within 15 days of taking office or receiving an appointment and again within 15 days of finishing their term or assignment. Public employees must also disclose assets and income of spouses and dependent children. There is no requirement to make similar disclosures during a person’s appointment, and it was common for public officials to serve for years without updating their disclosure statement.
In July congress passed a law mandating that starting in 2020, financial disclosures can be made public only with a court order.
The law bars public employees from holding government positions for up to 10 years for failure to comply with financial disclosure laws, but this was generally not enforced. Legislators generally ignored the law with impunity, using political immunity to avoid investigation or prosecution. The Comptroller’s Office did not investigate cases with incriminating financial information.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally cooperated with domestic NGOs and international organizations and met with domestic NGO monitors and representatives, but they often did not take action in response to their reports or recommendations. There were a number of reports that anticorruption protesters were attacked while demonstrating, although police rarely identified assailants.
Government Human Rights Bodies: Human Rights Ombudsman Miguel Godoy Servin remained active in his office after 10 years of ombudsman inactivity prior to his term, including launching outreach campaigns and investigations into misuse of public money and abuse of authority by public officials. In April a court acquitted Manuel Paez Monges of charges for misusing funds set aside as reparation funds for victims of the 1954-89 Stroessner dictatorship and their families. The ombudsman had filed a formal complaint that led to the indictment of Paez Monges.
Several human rights NGOs complained there was no single, reliable point of contact within the government to discuss human rights issues. They stated they were not approached for consultations on human rights policies, planning, and legislation. Although several government ministries had human rights offices to monitor compliance with human rights legislation, there was no coordinator to serve as the point of contact with civil society.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions (with the exception of the armed forces and police), bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits binding arbitration or retribution against union organizers and strikers. There are several restrictions on these rights. The law requires that industrial unions have a minimum of 20 members to register. All unions must register with the Labor Ministry, a process that often takes more than a year. The ministry, however, typically issued provisional registrations within weeks of application to allow labor unions to operate. Unions with provisional registrations had the same rights and obligations as other unions. Workers cannot be members of more than one union, even if they have more than one part-time employment contract. Strikes are limited to purposes directly linked to workers’ occupations. Candidates for trade union office must work for a company and be active members of the union.
The Labor Ministry is responsible for enforcing labor rights, registering unions, mediating disputes, and overseeing social security and retirement programs. Penalties, fines, and remedies associated with discrimination against unions were generally ineffective. Investigations of antiunion discrimination to protect labor rights were rare, lacked sufficient resources, and reportedly occurred only if requested by an aggrieved party. The ministry does not have jurisdiction to initiate or participate in antiunion litigation. Employers who fail to recognize or to bargain collectively with a registered union face fines of 50 days’ wages. Employers who blacklist employees face fines of 30 days’ wages. These penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The government often did not prevent retaliation by employers who took action against strikers and union leaders. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays, mishandling of cases, and corruption.
The government did not always respect unions’ freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain. Employers and professional associations heavily influenced some private-sector unions. The leadership of several unions representing public-sector employees had ties to political parties and the government. The government requested technical assistance from the International Labor Organization to revise labor legislation to bring it into line with the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention.
While union workers from the steel and maritime industries were unionized and often received relevant legal protections, most workers, including farmers, ranchers, and informal-sector employees, did not participate in labor unions. Many of these workers were members of farmworker movements.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Labor Ministry was unable to conduct inspections effectively, especially in remote areas where forced labor was reportedly more prevalent. The Special Directorate to Fight the Trafficking of Persons and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, however, increased child and forced labor investigations in the Chaco region, where the worst forms of child labor, human trafficking, and debt bondage were most prevalent. Penalties for violations include up to 20 years in prison, but enforcement was minimal, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.
During the year the Labor Ministry’s regional office in the Chaco received complaints for unjustified firings, nonpayment of wages, and other labor violations. The ministry did not confirm instances of debt bondage in the Chaco but would not dismiss the possibility that it continued to exist. In that region there were reports children worked alongside their parents in debt bondage on cattle ranches, on dairy farms, and in charcoal factories. The government continued antitrafficking law enforcement and training efforts for teenagers entering the workforce but provided limited protective services to female and child trafficking victims. The ministry continued anti-child-labor information campaigns, in addition to campaigns promoting labor rights specific to the Chaco region.
Child labor and trafficking, particularly in domestic service, was a significant problem (see section 7.c.). Reports of criadazgo continued throughout the year. (Criadazgo is the practice where middle- and upper-income families informally “employ” child domestic workers, often from impoverished families, and provide them with shelter, food, some education, and a small stipend.) Approximately 47,000 children were engaged in the criadazgo practice. Although not all children in situations of criadazgo were victims of trafficking, it made them more vulnerable. The government did not oversee implementation of the practice nor specifically safeguard the rights of children employed through the criadazgo system. While the practice is not legally prohibited specifically, the National Child and Adolescent Secretariat continued to denounce it as illegal under child labor laws.
See the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, with the exception of slavery-like practices that do not include trafficking involving physical movement of the victim. The minimum age for full-time employment is 18. Children 14 to 17 years old may work with written parental authorization, if they attend school and do not work more than four hours a day (14-15 years old) or six hours (16-17 years old), and do not work more than a maximum of 24 hours per week.
The government did not effectively enforce laws protecting children from exploitation in the workplace. The law stipulates those who employ adolescents between ages 14 and 17 under hazardous conditions must pay the maximum administrative penalty, serve up to five years in prison, or both, but penalties were insufficient to deter violations due to lax enforcement.
The Labor Ministry is responsible for administratively enforcing child labor laws, and the Attorney General’s Office prosecutes violators. The Ombudsman’s Office and the Child Rights Committee receive complaints and refer them to the Attorney General’s Office. In the first nine months of the year, the ministry received 17 complaints regarding child and adolescent workers, which was the same as in 2018. Most worked as metalworkers, cashiers, salesclerks, helpers, and in other service jobs.
Despite the government’s significant advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, it continued to occur in retail; sugar, brick, and limestone production; domestic service, and small-scale agricultural sectors. Children, primarily boys, also worked in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors and in the restaurant and other service industries. The Ministry of Children and Youth agreed to take administrative and financial control of a program providing safe and educational spaces for children at risk of child labor, incorporating it into the existing Programa Abrazo. In exchange for work, employers promised child domestic servants room, board, and financial support for school. Some of these children were victims of human trafficking for the purposes of forced child labor, did not receive pay or the promised benefits in exchange for work, suffered from sexual exploitation, and often lacked access to education.
The worst forms of child labor occurred where malnourished, abused, or neglected children worked in unhealthy and hazardous conditions selling goods or services on the street, working in factories, or harvesting crops. Children were used, procured, and offered to third parties for illicit activities, including commercial sexual exploitation (see also section 6, Children), sometimes with the knowledge of parents and guardians, who received remuneration. Some minors were involved in forced criminality, acting as drug smugglers for criminal syndicates along the border with Brazil. Children reportedly worked in debt bondage alongside their parents in the Chaco region. Children also shined shoes on the street and in government buildings, including the Supreme Court building (see section 7.b.).
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, age, religion, political opinion, disability, HIV-positive status, or social origin. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The fines for discrimination range from 10 to 30 daily wages per affected worker.
The press and civil society reported on employment discrimination based on sex, race, disability, age, language, weight, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and pregnancy. In one case an openly lesbian worker at a private school in Asuncion was victim of labor harassment and discrimination. The worker received multiple unfounded complaints from her supervisor, who told her that she was not performing up to standards. The supervisor assigned extra tasks to the worker and discouraged other employees from interacting with her because of her sexual orientation.
Many workers within the LGBTI community preferred not to file complaints with the Labor Ministry due to the ministry’s ineffective enforcement of the law and due to fear of being dismissed.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
In July, President Abdo Benitez signed a law equalizing the mandatory minimum wage applied to domestic employees to the national minimum wage; the domestic employees’ rate was previously set at 60 percent of the national minimum wage. The minimum wage was above the official estimate for the poverty income level.
The law stipulates that domestic employees work a maximum of eight hours per day. The law provides for a standard legal workweek of 48 hours (42 hours for night work) with one and one-half days of rest. There are no prohibitions of, or exceptions for, excessive compulsory overtime.
The government sets appropriate occupational health and safety standards stipulating conditions of safety, hygiene, and comfort. Although these standards were current and appropriate for light-manufacturing and construction industries, enforcement was inadequate.
The Labor Ministry did not effectively enforce provisions for overtime pay, the minimum wage, or limitations on hours of work in the formal or the informal sector. It launched public awareness campaigns, however, aimed at employers and workers to raise awareness of labor laws and worker rights. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance with all labor laws, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.
During the first nine months of the year, the Labor Ministry’s Department of Mediation of Private Conflicts received more than 5,000 labor complaints and mediation requests, a number similar to the previous year. Men filed the majority of these complaints, which involved illegal dismissals or the failure of employers to pay the legally mandated end-of-year bonuses. Many formal and informal employers violated provisions requiring overtime pay, particularly in the food and agricultural sectors and for domestic services. Most workplace accidents or fatalities occurred in the construction and light-manufacturing industries.
Employers are obligated to register workers with the Labor Ministry. As of October 1, approximately 4,320 employers had registered 14,400 workers with the ministry, which doubled the corresponding numbers for 2018.
According to the Labor Ministry and NGOs, many domestic workers suffered discrimination, routinely worked 12-hour workdays (when eight is the maximum), were not paid for overtime work (as required by law), were allowed to rest less than the 36 hours mandated by law, were not entitled to publicly provided retirement benefits, and did not routinely attain job stability after 10 years, unlike other workers covered by the labor code. Domestic workers were eligible for government-sponsored medical care and retirement programs through small payroll and employer contributions.