(New York) – Amnesty International said today that authorities in Paraguay must ensure all those responsible for the deaths of 11 peasants and six police officers in Curuguaty last June are investigated, including police officers present during the forced eviction.
On June 15, 11 peasants and six police officers were killed, and several others injured, after clashes erupted during a forced eviction in the Curuguaty district in Paraguay’s Canindeyú region. At least 13 peasants were detained on site, including two minors who were later released.
The prosecutor in charge of the investigation announced yesterday that charges had been brought against 14 peasants. However, no investigation is being carried out into relation to police response or their possible involvement in the deaths.
“It is shocking that no investigation is being conducted into the potential responsibility of the police,” said María José Eva, researcher at Amnesty International. “According to reports, during the confrontation there were more than 300 officers, many of them with firearms, as opposed to only around 90 peasants.”
According to eyewitnesses, some of the victims were shot dead on site after the confrontation had ended. Some also claim two bodies were found on the contested land the day after the clashes.
Two of Cristina*’s brothers died during the confrontation. She spoke to Amnesty International about what happened on June 15:
“I was desperate because I knew something was happening. My brothers were there, fighting for the land. We could see a lot of police, helicopters, injured. They were bringing the injured to the town, but only police officers, the peasants were left there…
One of my brothers was there and said we should go in, that my brother Mauricio was on the ground, injured. I went closer and asked the police if I could go in to help him, but they didn't let me. Then I was also not able to communicate over the phone.
My brother was hiding, watching everything and he heard a police officer shoot Mauricio, who already had a wound on his leg, and kill him.”
The next day, the body of Cristina’s other brother, Miguel, was found.
Both bodies were taken to Asunción for an autopsy. On Sunday, Cristina’s family received the remains of Mauricio and Miguel, wrapped in a black bag, each on a coffin. A forensic certificate documented that one of them had died as a result of acute bleeding caused by gunshot and the other due to destruction of brain tissue.
“We don't even know it was my brother Mauricio who we buried. It was very expensive to go to a funeral home and pay for the body to be cleaned so we buried him like that,” Cristina said.
“The police officers are not being investigated, that’s what we ask for, for them to be investigated. Life changed a lot in the community. At school, children talk. My 6-year-old nephew sees police officers and says ‘a police officer killed my dad.’ It’s difficult. We didn't expect this to happen.”
Raúl* first heard about the confrontations in Curuguaty over the radio. “I was in the city and came to the health center to see if they brought any of my relatives injured, but they only brought police officers,” he told Amnesty International.
Several hours later, when Raúl was on his way home, a neighbor called to tell him that his son, Esteban, was in the hospital. However, when he returned, Esteban was dead.
“I went to the hospital at 4pm and they didn't let me in. I was only able to go in at 5pm and I found one of my sons injured and Esteban, dead.”
Raúl’s injured sons are detained in jail. It is hard for Raúl’s family to visit them, as it is very expensive.
“We ask for the police to be investigated, but it is not done,” Raúl explained.
An Amnesty International delegation that visited the area last month received information from local organizations and relatives of victims about flaws in the ongoing investigation, as well as information about instances of ill-treatment of peasants during police detention.
Parallel investigations from local NGOs raised further questions, including the possible accountability of the police in the deaths, but were dismissed by the prosecutor without sufficient explanation, according to defense lawyers.
“While we are still in the process of a detailed analysis of the charges, we are concerned about what appeared to be a lack of a comprehensive investigation and the reported mismanagement of the crime scene,” said José Eva. “Investigations into these allegations about two bodies found the day after the clashes should be carried out promptly to ensure that no extrajudicial execution or other human rights violations took place.”
The delegation also met with the public prosecutor in charge of the investigation who said that those responsible for the deaths had already been identified, despite the fact that ballistics report results were still pending in November.
“We urge the authorities to take action to ensure that the investigation into the tragic events in Curuguaty, including the police response, is effective, impartial and transparent, and that all those responsible are brought to justice,” said José Eva. “Impunity cannot prevail in these cases.”
The deaths took place in the context of a forced eviction in contested lands in Curuguaty. Since 2004, Curuguaty has undergone at least seven occupations of this land by the same peasant communities, all of whom argue that those lands are owned by the Paraguayan State and thus should be subject to land reform and given to peasants. Reports indicate that the land was donated by LIPSA to the Paraguay Army in the 1960s, although the title was not registered.
*The names of those interviewed and other details were changed to preserve their security.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.