BRIEFING NOTES - Paraguay
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Marta Hurtado
Date: 5 February 2021
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is deeply concerned at recent reports in Paraguay regarding the disappearance of a 14 year-old girl, Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, and the lack of progress in investigating the killing of two 11 year-old girls, Lilian Villalba and Maria Carmen Villalba.
According to available information, Carmen Elizabeth witnessed an operation carried out five months ago, on 2 September 2020, by the Paraguayan Joint Task Force against members of the EPP group (Paraguayan People’s Army), in the Yby Yaú area, some 370 kilometres north of Asunción. The two 11 year-old girls, who were killed in the same operation, were Argentinian citizens.
Carmen Elizabeth, a Paraguayan citizen, has reportedly been missing since early December, but her disappearance only came to light recently when her aunt, Laura Villalba Ayala, reported it. Villalba Ayala was arrested on 23 December, accused of several offences. She has been detained in a military facility.
Credible new testimonies have emerged, according to which Carmen Elizabeth was injured during the 2 September operation but fled, while Lilian and Maria Carmen were apprehended alive. This evidence contradicts the Paraguay Government´s official account that the two 11 year-olds were killed in a clash with the Joint Task Force.
Important evidence has been lost. The bodies of Lilian and Maria Carmen were immediately buried and the clothes they were allegedly wearing when they were killed destroyed. When their bodies were subsequently exhumed, the Paraguayan authorities confirmed that both girls had been killed by multiple gunshots. However, the girls’ bodies were quickly reburied and calls for an independent forensic study not heeded. Instead, the Paraguayan authorities brought charges of “association with terrorism” against the girls´ mothers, who live in Argentina, and against their aunt, Laura Villalba
The High Commissioner calls the Paraguayan authorities to urgently search for the missing girl, Carmen Elizabeth. In light of the new witness accounts about the capture and killing of the other two girls, Bachelet is urges calling on the Paraguayan authorities to conduct a prompt, independent and effective investigation into the many unanswered questions surrounding their deaths.
These include determining why a full forensic examination was not carried out before they were buried, nor once allegations had emerged suggesting they may have been summarily executed. Such an investigation should also examine why important evidence was destroyed. An independent forensic study should still be carried out.
The High Commissioner also calls on the Paraguayan authorities to provide information regarding Laura Villalba Ayala’s current situation, and ensure she is granted her full rights in accordance with international law, including access to a lawyer and the right to receive family visits.
The High Commissioner notes the gender dimension of the cases, which involve women and girls who are relatives of EPP adherents. She also notes previous concerns about human rights violations allegedly committed by the Joint Task Force, and urges the Government to review and reform its functioning.
The High Commissioner recognizes that the EPP represents a real security concern and has committed serious crimes, such as kidnappings - most recently that of former Vice President Oscar Denis in September 2020, which she condemns. She reiterates, however, that the authorities must fully respect their international human rights obligations when addressing security concerns and criminal activities.