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 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and provides penalties of up to 10 years in prison for rape or sexual assault. If the victim is a minor, the sentence ranges from a minimum of three years to 15 years in prison. According to the Attorney General’s Office, rape continued to be a significant and pervasive problem, with many rapes going unreported. The government generally prosecuted rape allegations and sometimes obtained convictions.
Although the law criminalizes domestic violence, including psychological abuse, and stipulates a penalty of two years in prison or a fine if convicted, it requires the abuse to be habitual and the aggressor and victim to be “cohabitating or lodging together.” Judges typically issued fines, but in some cases they sentenced offenders to jail to provide for the safety of the victim. In some instances the courts mediated domestic violence cases. According to NGOs and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, domestic violence was widespread, and thousands of women received treatment for injuries sustained in domestic altercations. In many instances victims asked prosecutors to drop cases against their attackers due to fear of reprisals, allowing their attackers’ crimes to go unpunished. In September a man was recorded on video attacking his former girlfriend near the city of Coronel Oviedo. The attacker punched and kicked the victim and also cut her hair with a pocketknife; however, prosecutors dropped the case at the victim’s request.
The ministry promoted a national 24-hour telephone hotline for victims. The ministry also operated a shelter and coordinated victim assistance efforts, public outreach campaigns, and training. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs’ “Woman City” in Asuncion, an integrated service center for women, provided services focusing on prevention of domestic violence, reproductive health, economic empowerment, and education. As of October 1, the National Police had 17 specialized units to assist victims of domestic violence and more than 100 officers assigned to these stations.
Femicide remained a serious problem. A 2016 law criminalizes femicide and mandates a sentence of between 10 and 30 years in prison upon conviction. As of October 1, the Observatory of Women’s Affairs within the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported 25 cases of femicide, a significantly lower number than the previous year’s total of 59 cases. July was the first month since the enactment of the law against femicide with no reported cases of femicide.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates a penalty of two years in prison or a fine, although sexual harassment remained a widespread problem for many women, especially in workplace environments. Prosecutors found sexual harassment and abuse claims difficult to prove due to victims’ fear of workplace retaliation and societal pressures against victims. Many dropped their complaints or were unwilling to continue cooperating with prosecutors.
In August, Maria Belen Whittingslow, a law student who in 2014 accused Cristian Kriskovich, her former professor and current member of the Justice Tribunal, of sexual harassment. She subsequently fled to Uruguay seeking refugee status after prosecutors requested Whittingslow’s arrest for her involvement in a grade-fixing case involving 40 students. She alleged prosecutors requested her arrest under pressure from Kriskovich. Following Whittingslow’s move to Uruguay, a group of female senators demanded Kriskovich quit his Justice Tribunal post to prevent undue influence over judges. As of November 20, Kriskovich remained in his position.
A 2018 protocol addresses sexual misconduct involving government workers. It streamlines the filing of complaints for misconduct and harassment. To facilitate the enforcement of the protocol, the Civil Service Secretariat trained public servants and adopted guidance to include gender perspective in all public agencies’ internal resolutions.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, but the government did not effectively enforce this provision. There is no comprehensive law against discrimination and thus no legal basis for enforcement of the constitutional clause against discrimination.
Women generally enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men. Nonetheless, gender-related discrimination was widespread. Women experienced more difficulty than men in securing employment.
Birth Registration: Nationality derives from birth within the country’s territory, from birth to government employees in service abroad, or from birth to a citizen residing temporarily outside the country. Hospitals immediately register births, but registration was difficult for many parents of children born in rural areas and in indigenous communities with limited access to health-care facilities. Birth certificates and national identity documents are a prerequisite to access government services, including obtaining a passport.
Child Abuse: The NGO Coalition for the Rights of Children and Adolescents and the Ministry of Children and Youth stated that violence against children was widespread and equally prevalent among rural and urban families.
In September a court convicted a man for sexually abusing his seven-year-old stepdaughter but released him, on the basis of time served for the eight months during the trial. The judges instructed the man to “rethink” his actions and called him “a good guy.” In response the lower house of congress issued a statement condemning the ruling, and the judicial disciplinary board started preliminary investigations into the judges’ decision.
The government did not have a shelter exclusively for child victims of sexual abuse; victims were usually assigned to an extended family member or referred to other general-purpose youth shelters. Several such shelters existed, including one comanaged by the government and a Roman Catholic organization. In many cities the municipal council for children’s rights assisted abused and neglected children.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but the law permits marriage for those ages 16 to 18 with parental consent, and for those younger than age 16 only with judicial authorization under exceptional circumstances. There were no reports of forced marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: According to the Ministry of Children and Youth, child trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation or forced domestic servitude remained problematic. The law provides penalties of up to eight years of imprisonment for persons responsible for pimping or brokering victims younger than 17 years of age.
The minimum age of consent is 14 when married and 16 when not married. The law sets the penalty for sexual abuse in cases involving violence or intercourse to at least 15 years in prison if the victim is younger than 18, and to 20 years in prison if the victim is younger than 10. The penal code also provides for fines or up to three years in prison for the production, distribution, and possession of pornography involving children or adolescents younger than 18. Authorities can increase this penalty to 10 years in prison depending on the age of the child and the child’s relationship to the abuser. The law prohibits the publication of names, images, or audios of underage sexual abuse victims or witnesses and stipulates fines and one year in prison for offenders.
In the first 10 months of the year, the Prosecutor’s Office received thousands of reports of sexual abuse against children. In September a prosecutor with the Attorney General’s Office indicted 13 navy officers who had sexually abused a 13-year-old girl at a navy garrison in 2018.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Jewish community has fewer than 1,000 members. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law nominally prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law mandates accessibility in all public offices, but it does not specifically provide for access to information or communications, and most of the country’s buildings remained inaccessible.
Many persons with disabilities faced significant discrimination in employment; others were unable to seek employment because of a lack of accessible public transportation. The law mandates the allocation of 5 percent of all available public-employee positions to persons with disabilities; in practice less than 1 percent were so employed. The Ministry of Education and Sciences estimated more than 50 percent of children with disabilities did not attend school due to lack of access to public transportation capacity. The majority of children with disabilities who attended school were enrolled in public institutions. Some segregated schools serving special needs such as deafness operated.
Anecdotally, ethnic minorities faced discrimination in finding employment, accessing credit, receiving equal pay, owning or managing businesses, accessing education, and accessing housing. There were no members of ethnic minorities represented in congress, the cabinet, or the Supreme Court.
The law provides indigenous persons the right to participate in the economic, social, political, and cultural life of the country, but the law was not effectively enforced. Discrimination, coupled with a lack of access to employment, education, health care, shelter, and sufficient land, hindered the ability of indigenous persons to progress economically while maintaining their cultural identity.
Indigenous workers engaged as laborers on ranches typically earned low wages, worked long hours, received pay infrequently, and lacked medical or retirement benefits. This situation was particularly severe in the Chaco region.
The National Institute for Indigenous Affairs (INDI), Attorney General’s Office; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security (Labor Ministry); Social Action Secretariat; and Ombudsman’s Office are responsible for protecting and promoting indigenous rights. The law mandates that INDI negotiate, purchase, and register land on behalf of indigenous communities who claim lack of access to their ancestral lands. In some instances INDI claimed it lacked sufficient funding to purchase land on behalf of indigenous persons or required them to register land in the Asuncion office rather than locally.
The law authorizes indigenous persons to determine how to use communal land. There were insufficient police and judicial protections from encroachments on indigenous lands. This often resulted in conflict between indigenous communities and large landowners in rural areas, which at times led to violence.
CODEHUPY and other NGOs documented widespread trafficking in persons, rape, sexual harassment, and physical abuse of women in indigenous communities. Perpetrators were often male members of the community, workers, and employers from neighboring ranches and farms. NGOs also alleged agribusiness operations in the Chaco exploited and violated the rights of indigenous workers.
No laws explicitly prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and discrimination occurred frequently. Several NGOs, including SomosGay, the Center for Studies and Documentation, and Aireana, reported police harassment and discrimination against LGBTI persons.
According to press and NGO reporting, during the year police officers beat, robbed, and implicated transgender individuals as suspects in serious crimes, including drug trafficking and armed robbery.
In June a prosecutor appealed a judge’s 2018 sentence allowing a transgender person to change her birth name on the grounds of a 1987 law banning the use of “ridiculous names” or those that can “create confusion about gender.” As of October the case was pending Constitutional Court review.
In October a court convicted Blas Enrique Amarilla for the 2017 murder of a transgender person and sentenced him to 25 years in prison, marking the first conviction in the country for a crime targeting a transgender victim.
The law prohibits discrimination based on HIV-positive status and protects the privacy of medical information. The law also specifically prohibits employers from discriminating against or harassing employees based on their HIV-positive status. Labor Ministry regulations forbid employers from requiring HIV testing prior to employment, but many companies reportedly still did so.
NGOs, CODEHUPY, and the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Counseling and Reporting Center noted that persons with HIV/AIDS who sought access to health care, education, and employment opportunities faced discrimination based on their sexual orientation, demand for HIV testing, or gender identity.