Aché people of Paraguay: Madrid Conference on a forgotten genocide
On Friday 4 July, a conference will be held in Madrid on the crimes committed against the Aché people of Paraguay during the military dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner in the late 60s. These human rights violations were brought to light by the anthropologist Mark Munzel, through IWGA’s documentation work.
The main objective of the conference is to promote actions in favour of truth, justice and reparation for the Aché people by publicising the crimes committed against them and the recently-activated mechanisms for denouncing them. Against a backdrop of the investigations conducted into the systematic violations of human rights during the Stroessner dictatorship, Dr. Mark Munzel and Prof. Bartomeu Melia will share their first-hand experiences of the events. Both were eyewitnesses who documented what happened in the National Guayaki Cologne and wrote several international reports on the issue. IWGIA’s Programme Coordinator for Latin America, Alejandro Parellada, will sit on the first panel, together with Manuel Vergara from Baltasar Garzón International Foundation (FIBGAR), the lawyer and prosecutor in the case, Aitor Jiménez Martínez, prosecuting attorney in relation to Argentina’s military Junta, Carlos Slepoy, prosecuting attorney in relation to Francoist crimes, Adolfo Scilingo, and the President of the Institute of Political Studies for Latin America( IEPALA ), Juan Carmelo García García. Criminal proceedings initiated in Argentina On 6 August 2013, a criminal lawsuit was initiated in Argentina against those responsible for the Paraguayan dictatorship, through the principle of Universal Jurisdiction. As a result, Case 7300/2013 was opened by Argentine Federal Court No. 5. Subsequently, on 8 April of this year, the Native Aché Federation of Paraguay also joined the case as plaintiffs for crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity committed against their community in Paraguay. The Aché community and the military dictatorship in Paraguay The Aché are an indigenous community of nomadic hunter-gatherers who had lived in the eastern region of Paraguay since time immemorial. In the late 1960s, during the military dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, a policy of highway expansion along with the advance of the agricultural frontier left the last of the uncontacted Aché cornered in a part of the Canindeyú forest. The Aché began to represent a problem for the new farm owners who were settling in the area, as the community continued to live by their age-old ancestral traditions, sometimes attacking livestock and entering properties. By the end of the 1960s, the practice of organising ‘Aché hunts’ had become commonplace on the part of the settlers, who referred to them as ‘mountain rats’. Afterwards, the dictatorship began a campaign of forced settlement of the community in order to expel them from the region and concentrate them in the National Guayaki Settlement under military command and dependent on the Department of Indigenous Affairs and the Ministry of National Defence. Those indigenous who refused to be transferred to the settlement were forcibly captured in ‘raids’ organised by the military command, with many of them being killed, captured or forcibly displaced. The result was a veritable ethnic cleansing of the new farming region, with the community’s transfer to the settlement. Once there, many were forced to work as virtual slave labour, particularly on the farms in the case of the men. Particularly distressing was the sale of many indigenous children to Paraguayan families, most of whom ended up working as domestic servants with no identity. In the settlement, they suffered a lack of food and medical care, leading to numerous deaths due to respiratory illnesses caused by contact with Paraguayans. As a result of the above, according to anthropological studies and documentation on the issue, the community’s population plummeted by more than 50% in less than five years. All these facts were documented and reported by Dr. Mark Münzel, a German ethnologist and anthropologist who had moved to the region to study the Aché culture and who discovered the policy of forced settlement and concentration undertaken by the military command. The Spanish anthropologist, Bartomeu Melia, also documented and reported on the events, and ended up being deported by order of dictator Alfredo Stroessner. As a result of these complaints, in 1977 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asked the Paraguayan State to investigate the crimes and bring those responsible to justice. No criminal investigation of the events was ever opened, however. The UN Commission on Human Rights also opened a 1503 Procedure to investigate the crimes being committed against the Aché, requesting that the UN Secretary General himself call on Paraguay to put an end to this practice. However, the dictatorship showed no desire to prosecute these crimes and so criminal proceedings against the perpetrators remained impossible. Once democracy had come to the country, the regime showed no real desire to prosecute the crimes of the previous dictatorship and so the crimes against the Aché still remained unpunished. In 2008, the Truth and Justice Commission of Paraguay completed its work of documenting the crimes committed during the dictatorship, establishing that the State was responsible for the events. The report was sent to the State Attorney General to commence criminal proceedings but, to date, no case has been opened, which is why the Aché community are now bringing a case through the Argentine courts by virtue of the principle of Universal Jurisdiction, as the only way of achieving the necessary truth, justice and reparation. Date: 4 July 2014, 17:00 - 21:00 Location : Lecture Hall. Ateneo de Madrid. Calle Prado, 21. *The event is being organised by Paraguay resiste en Madrid (Paraguay Resistance in Madrid) and Plaza de los Pueblos (‘The People’s Square), with the support of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), the Institute of Political Studies for Latin America (IEPALA), Baltasar Garzón International Foundation (FIBGAR) and the UNESCO Chair in Civil Liberties and Civic Values of the Carlos III University of Madrid.