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On 2nd September 2020, a Paraguayan military operation took place in the north of the country which resulted in the deaths of two Argentinian girls of 11 years of age. Later three men were killed and the aunt of those girls was captured by Paraguayan military and is currently in jail. Those are the only elements upon which everyone is agreed; the rest is a matter of hot dispute, not only between the Paraguayan authorities and relatives of the dead girls and the detained woman, but also between those authorities and human rights organisations in Argentina, a feminist collective in Paraguay (currently subject to repression) and the appropriate organisation of the United Nations. There is also the question of a missing 14-year old girl.
Some of the human rights organisations, such as the Gremial de Abogados de Argentina (Association of Argentinian Lawyers) and feminist collectives in Paraguay itself have said the girls were captured alive and subsequently murdered. Some others, such as Human Rights Watch have cast heavy doubts on the version (actually, a number of different versions) of the Paraguayan authorities, also pointing out a number of actions taken which raise suspicions of murder and of attempts to cover up the events.
ACCORDING TO THE FAMILY AND SUPPORTERS
Last year Laura Villalba Ayala – sister of Carmen Villalba, one of the former top leaders of the EPP guerrilla organisation who has been in prison for 17 years – travelled from Argentina to Paraguay with three girls who were going to visit their relatives. According to some sources, to visit their fathers, whom they had never met in person, having been born in Argentina to where their mothers had fled and been brought up there.
Paraguayan intelligence detected the group and they were ambushed on 2nd September in the El Paraíso ranch, located in the city of Yby Yaú, in the Department of Concepción of the Republic of Paraguay. The belief is that they took them alive as prisoners and then executed two of the 11-year-old girls, Lilian and Maria Carmen Villalba and wounded 14-year-old Carmen Elizabeth (Lichita) who managed to flee along with others. Or executed the girls after the others had successfully got away – after interrogating them.
A relentless hunt pursued the fugitives and on 20th November 2020, while passing through the forest the three men who accompanied them were executed in cold blood: Lucio Silva, Esteban Marín López and Rodrigo Arguello. Their executioners fired infrared targeted shots at a distance of 500 meters.
Alone and without knowing the area, the girl and woman fled the hunt into the forest but got lost and separated and on December 23rd when Laura was looking for Carmen Elizabeth, she was arrested. The girl is still missing, while Laura is prisoner in a military camp and, according to her family and supporters, probably being tortured.
ACCORDING TO THE PARAGUAYAN AUTHORITIES
The “raid on an EEP camp” was hailed by the President of Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benítez himself as a great victory against the EEP and mentioned that some young women guerrilleras had been killed. When giving more detail, the military said that the young women were around 14 or 15 and supplied photographs of their bodies in military-style fatigues/ uniform.
The authorities reported that the bodies had been found with weapons, that a paraffin test on one of them established that she had fired a weapon, that both had ammunition in their pockets, their clothes had been burned (“due to Covid19 precautions”) and both had been buried without autopsy.
Ferreira, a Government official who arrived at the site of the incident after it had occurred, said that he recorded bullet wounds which he said had been at a distance of between 10 and 20 metres and that the girls had been shot while running away.
After enquiries from anxious relatives, the Paraguayan authorities requested the Argentinian state to send copies of the birth certificates of the girls which, when supplied, confirmed that the girls had been 11 years of age. The Director of Forensic Science of the Paraguayan Prosecutor’s office then had the bodies exhumed and, carrying out tests on them, confirmed their ages at around 11 years of age. After that examination of the remains, the Forensic Science Director, Pablo Lemir said one girl was shot seven times – from the front, the back, and the side – while the other girl was shot twice, from the front and the side.
The Paraguayan State and its supporting media then began to talk of a “training camp for child soldiers” and accusing Laura Villalba Ayala of having accompanied them into Paraguay for that purpose.
DOUBTS AND SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES
Numerous sources including Human Rights Watch, commenting on the available information, cast doubts or outright challenged the Paraguayan state account, pointing out the following:
- no autopsy was carried out on the bodies prior to burial as is required in particular by the Minnesota Protocol in cases of death caused by government agents (the international standard for conducting autopsies and other forensic analysis in the United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention of Extra-legal, Arbitrary, and Summary Executions).
- neither family, Argentinian Consul or independent observers were permitted to attend the eventual autopsy
- the clothes of the deceased, material of great forensic importance were not only not preserved but burned
- the reason given for that burning, defence against Covid19 contagion, is not recommended in any of the Covid19 procedures and was not carried out with regard to other material in the camp (bedding, food sacks etc) and in any case makes no sense since the bodies were immediately buried, according to the military
- despite videoing by Government forces of previous such operations, there was none of this one
- there were no interviews of the military personnel to establish what weapons they had or who had fired or their account of the incident
- the photos seen showed the uniforms clean and without bullet holes while the girls were by military admission killed by a number of bullets and relatives shown the photos contrasted the clean state of the uniforms with the girls’ faces and hands, which suggested to them that they had been dressed in the uniforms after torture and execution
- Beyond 1.5 metres, it is not possible to determine the distance of firing since the entry wound will look the same at vastly different distances, according to two IFEG forensic analysts (Independent Forensic Expert Group of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims) giving Human Rights Watch their expert opinions in this case.
- The paraffin test is not considered conclusive of having fired a gun, according to the IFEG experts, since there is a wide range of other substances that can give the same result.
- According to Pablo Lemir, Director of Forensic Science of Paraguay’s Prosecutor’s Office, the failure to carry out an autopsy and burning of clothes violated standard procedures for such cases.
- The Government expended some effort originally to claim that the girls were years older than their actual age. Now it is refusing to allow an experienced Argentinian team to exhume the girls and carry out a forensic examination.
REPRESSION AND RESISTANCE IN PARAGUAY ARISING FROM THIS CASE
A feminist collective responded spontaneously to the news of the killing with around 70 demonstrating with a samba band at the national building of the Pantheon of Heroes, carrying placards stating that the victims were only girls (“eran niñas” — which also became a hashtag about the case). The Pantheon building had been sprayed earlier with graffiti quoting from Paraguay’s child protection legislation and there was an attempt to burn a flag of the state’s colours.
The Attorney General’s Office immediately issued arrest warrants for three women on charges of “damage to national heritage”, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Paloma Chaparro, who had been recorded carrying out the acts, later surrendered herself to authorities, while Marian Abdala and Giselle Ferrer fled to Argentina despite continued border closures due to Covid-19. Subsequently summonses were issued for at least six of the organisers of the protest to answer charges of violation of Covid19 regulations and extradition requests were made of Argentina for the two who fled the country.
Paraguayan politicians, who have nothing to say about the killing of 11-year-old girls by their military, have vied to express disgust and horror at the crimes on the national monument, with patriotic associations even laying floral tributes of thousands of dollars at the monument. The Paraguayan media, all very aligned with the regime, has made great issue of this “crime” (at worst mild vandalism) with the effect of drawing a veil over the case of executions of two 11-year-old girls and three adults, the continuing disappearance of a 14-year-old girl and the continuing detention of their adult relative in a male-only military compound.
Both women who fled to Argentina gave numerous death and rape threats as their reason, along with lack of faith in fair treatment by Paraguay’s judicial system.
Paloma Chaparro spent two weeks in jail before being bailed at $14,300 to house arrest.
During a press conference on Monday 11th, a member of the lawyers’ delegation who had entered the conflict zone in an effort to find and rescue Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba and also to investigate the incident, said they were accompanied throughout by five military vans and that the intimidation of the local people was such that they were unable to talk to any of them. However, some who separatedly had managed to speak to local people confirmed that the girls had been arrested alive during the raid.
Later the Paraguayan authorities claimed that one of the lawyers is the new leader of the EPP! Commenting on the accusation during the press conference a representative of the organisation clearly found it amusing but then became serious, pointing out that such accusations could put their lives in danger.
On 11 September 2020 the Paraguayan government stated that former Vice President Óscar Denis and one of his employees were kidnapped by members of the EPP not far from the site of the guerrilla camp assaulted by the army on 2nd September. The pick-up vehicle in which the two men were riding was found abandoned with propaganda leaflets scattered around, the statement said. The EPP appears to have made no statement in that regard.
Both men are reported still missing.
The Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army) is a very small guerrilla army of communist ideology, which sees itself as a liberation organisation but which the regime classifies as a terrorist organisation. Estimates of its numbers vary from 50-100 and it operates mostly in the Concepción department (administrative area) in northern Paraguay and also in the neighbouring departments of Caníndeyu and San Pedro.
Wikipedia and other websites describing such organisations regularly list the alleged killings, kidnappings etc by the guerrilla organisations without listing the corresponding arrests, killings and other actions by the police and army forces or other arms of the State or proxy forces. In those circumstances quoting statistics of armed actions by the guerrilla organisation can amount to propaganda in favour of the state in question.
The origins of the organisation are in the taking apart of the Partido Patria Libre (Free Homeland Party) by Paraguayan police in 2005.
Whatever others may say about them it does appear that the guerrilleros are well-regarded in the EPP operational area and the chairperson of the press conference in Argentina on Monday commented in passing that the funerals of the three fighters executed by the Paraguayan military were attended by large crowds of local people paying their respects.
A coalition of Argentinian human rights organisations have written an Open Letter (see Appendix 2) to Alberto Fernandez, the President of Argentina, calling on him to suspend commercial relations with Paraguay until the regime responds satisfactorily to the following
- “Demand the Paraguayan government authorize the immediate entry of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team to carry out an autopsy within the framework of an impartial investigation that can guarantee justice for the girls María Carmen and Lilian Mariana Villalba.
- “Demand of the Paraguayan government the appearance alive of Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, aged 14, who has been missing since November 30, 2020.
- “Demand of the Paraguayan government the immediate release of Laura Villalba, who is being held illegally in a military prison, probably subjected to torture.
- “Grant political refuge in Argentina for the Villalba family, which is constantly harassed and criminalized by the Paraguayan government.”
Supporters of the family and human rights organisations in Argentina are asking for details of the case to be widely disseminated and for people internationally to add their voices to the campaign (should you wish to add your name or organisation in support of the letter, please notify firstname.lastname@example.org and name which category you come under from the list on the open letter).
At an on-line press conference on Monday last week it seemed that the only media present from outside Latin America were from the Italian and Spanish states. A member of the family, Myrian, thanked all for their efforts and vowed to continue the campaign while an elderly Nor Cortiñas, a member of the famous Mothers of May Square, who in the 1970s and 80s demonstrated in Buenos Aire’s city centre demanding justice regarding those “disappeared” by the military dictatorship then, spoke words of encouragement and said “Venceremos!” (“We shall win`!”) with upraised clenched fist.
Both the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have demanded an investigation into the killings.
Under a feeling of some urgency I have done best I have been able to assist in a small way the application of international pressure upon firstly the Paraguayan state to admit a proper investigation, along with the return to Argentina of Laura Villalbaand the currently disappeared 14-year-oldCarmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba and, in the second place, that the Argentinian Government take all action possible to achieve those aims. It was just a few days ago that I received the first knowledge I had of this case through a comrade abroad forwarding me the press release of the Argentinian Lawyers’ Association, since when I have tried to find more details and also some press coverage (see Sources). It is possible therefore that I have omitted some relevant matters or erred in some detail and if so, I can only apologise and hope that will not be the cause of anyone failing to disseminate information about this atrocity and the present and continuing danger to a woman in jail and a 14 year-old girl missing in Paraguay.
APPENDED DOCUMENTS (total 2)
THE ARGENTINIAN LAWYERS’ ASSOCIATION REPORTS THE ARRIVAL OF A DELEGATION OF INTERNATIONAL LAWYERS IN THE CONFLICT ZONE IN SEARCH OF INFORMATION ABOUT THE WHEREABOUTS OF CARMEN ELIZABETH OVIEDO VILLALBA (English translation from original by DB)
It was public knowledge in the past that more than ten years ago several members of the Villalba family, mostly boys and girls, had to settle in our country (Argentina) fleeing the persecution unleashed by the Paraguayan Government against the families of the combatants of the EPP (Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo- Paraguayan People’s Army), who are not part of the organization.
Last year Laura Villalba Ayala – Carmen Villalba’s sister, one of the top leaders of the EPP who has been in prison for 17 years – travelled to Paraguay with three girls who were going to visit their relatives.
Paraguayan intelligence detected the group and the persecution against them was unleashed immediately, managing to ambush them on 2nd September in the El Paraíso ranch, located in the city of Yby Yaú, in the Department of Concepción of the Republic of Paraguay. They took them alive as prisoners and then executed two of the 11-year-old girls, Lilian and Maria Carmen Villalba and wounded 14-year-old Carmen Elizabeth (Lichita) who managed to flee along with the others.
From there, the chase after them was relentless. In this context, on 20th November 2020, the three people who accompanied them: Lucio Silva, Esteban Marín López and Rodrigo Arguello were executed in cold blood while passing through the forest. The executioners fired shots at 500 meters distance with weapons equipped with caloric and infrared mechanisms that detect human heat and direct the shot.
Alone and without knowing the area, they went into the forest trying to flee the persecution. They got lost and on December 23rd when Laura was looking for Carmen Elizabeth, she was arrested.
From the testimonies of local people collected by Laura before her arrest, some said that the army had captured Carmen Elizabeth and others said that a group of civilians captured her.
Throughout these days the Government of Paraguay has launched an intense campaign against the EPP, in particular against the Villalba family. To justify the executions of the girls and now the disappearance of Carmen Elizabeth “Lichita”, they are spreading false news about the recruitment of minors in the EPP, obscenely conducting a cover-up for their crimes and their need to use the persecution of girls as spoils of war in their fight against the EPP.
For that reason, several colleagues offered to organize a search group with the participation of our colleague Gustavo Franquet, along with the lawyer Daysi Irala from Paraguay, the lawyer Sabrina Diniz Bittencourt Nepomuceno from Brazil and the comrade Germán from Aníbal Verón’s CTD, who also volunteered to accompany and assist.
On the 4th of January 2021 this delegation arrived at Yby Yaú, North of Paraguay after 6 hours by the bus. From there, they will have to walk into the conflict zone, in an area with a lot of forest to try to reach the area where aboriginal communities have reported that they saw Lichita alive.
They will try to confirm the information gathered so far and look for more information about the 14-year-old girl (twin) daughter of Carmen Villalba.
We publicise the presence of our colleagues in the area, aware of the danger that the delegation has assumed when entering the conflict zone.
The Government and the Paraguayan military forces are informed of the entry into the area of a non-belligerent foreign group of which none carry any weapons.
We hold the Government and the Joint Task Forces of Paraguay responsible for the physical integrity, life, and liberty of our comrades, since the official Paraguayan organizations and the Argentine consul in Asunción have been formally notified of their presence.
Finally, and with all our heart, we want to show our immense gratitude to so many colleagues, as well as to very diverse organizations of different political positions that assisted with money (in some cases a lot of money, which was unexpected by us) to pay for the trip, tickets and the huge expenses that this mission entails for us.
Know that we will never ever forget such a gesture and that without this assistance this trip would have been impossible.
We will continue to provide all the information that we receive.
Open letter to President Alberto Fernández: You cannot do “business” with an infanticidal state.
We the undersigned, social organizations, intellectuals, academics, trade unionists, activists, defenders of human rights, feminists, professionals, members of civil society, political organizations, ask the Argentina Government presided over by Alberto Fernández to suspend commercial relations with the Paraguayan State until the clarification of the crime perpetrated by the Joint Task Forces (FTC) against the Argentinian girls María Carmen and Lilian Mariana Villalba, who were only 11 years old, in Yby Yaú, Concepción, Paraguay, on September 2, 2020, and thatCarmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, 14 years old, disappeared since November 30, appears alive.
Along the same lines, the immediate cessation of the persecution of the Villalba family is required, which currently has Laura Villalba, mother of one of the massacred girls, illegally detained in the Viñas Cué military prison. Both Carmen Elizabeth and Laura witnessed the capture of the girls at Yby Yau on September 2nd. Therefore, the arrest of one and the disappearance of the other are intimately related to the intention of the terrorist state of Paraguay,faced with a fact that is internationally known, to erase the evidence and viciously punish the next of kin.
Laura, María Carmen, Lilian Mariana and Carmen Elizabeth resided in the missionary town of Puerto Rico (Argentina) and were stranded in Paraguay by the COVID 19 pandemic. The Paraguayan State had a duty to protect them and return them in good health. On the contrary, the repressive forces of that country violated their lives, with the operation celebrated as a success by the President of the country himself, Mario Abdo Benítez.
The bodies of the girls were not subjected to an autopsy and were quickly buried, with false information from official sources about the age and condition of the girls at the time of being killed. The alleged clothes that the girls were wearing were cremated as a preventive operation against COVID 19, a fact that lacks substance and reason. The second autopsy that was carried out under pressure from civil society determined the age of the girls and added more confusion to the way in which they were executed, so we understand that an impartial investigation is still necessary to determine what happened and to allow progress in a process of reparation and justice.
Although the Paraguayan Government has supposedly responded affirmatively to the request for an investigation made by the Argentinian State, it has done nothing in that direction and, on the contrary, has withdrawn its support for the UN in the face of its pronouncement in this case; it has persecuted the protesters who demand justice, has criminalized children, adolescents and indigenous communities in the region, has held the families of the victims responsible as well as relatives who suffer persistent persecution, has fostered wild hypotheses about Argentina, as some kind of “guerrilla nursery” place, has wished to prohibit the dissemination of information about the murdered girls, thereby trying to hide the fact that they were girls and push the case into oblivion, has continued with its policy of militarization of the northern region of the country. As if all this were not enough, we also observe an intention – reinforced by the hegemonic media and social networks – to deny the Argentinian nationality of the girls María Carmen and Lilian Mariana, to remove relevance of the incident from the Argentinian State, which worries us doubly: first, because it is intended to strip us of the tool of international law; second, because in this way the Paraguayan State demonstrates that it assumes the power to murder girls if it so wishes.
The Paraguayan State has a history of abuses that are recorded with six judgments of the IACHR, of which it has only partially complied with one of them, so we are talking about a serial violator of human rights. Under no point of view can we entrust the clarification of the massacre of our girls to whoever murdered them. Such is the impunity that no person is charged, investigated or detained for such an outrage, unlike the case of the people who participated in the protests demanding justice for the girls, for which there are summons, detentions and requests for international arrest. These recent verified events reveal not only disproportionate cruelty but also the direction taken by the Paraguayan judiciary.
If the Argentinian State is committed to the defense of human rights, in no way can it ignore such an outrage that physically assaults the bodies of girls, women and social activists. That is why through this letter we urge the Argentinian government to:
- Demand the Paraguayan government authorize the immediate entry of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team to carry out an autopsy within the framework of an impartial investigation that can guarantee justice for the girls María Carmen and Lilian Mariana Villalba.
- Demand of the Paraguayan government the appearance alive of Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, aged 14, who has been missing since November 30, 2020.
- Demand of the Paraguayan government the immediate release of Laura Villalba, who is being held illegally in a military prison, probably subjected to torture.
- Grant political refuge in Argentina for the Villalba family, constantly harassed and criminalized by the Paraguayan government.
We are convinced that you cannot do business with the infanticidal state led by Mario Abdo Benítez, direct heir to the Stroessner dictatorship.
Without further ado and awaiting a favorable response, sincerely:
HUMAN RIGHT ORGANIZATIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 10)
TRADE UNIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 7)
POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 33)
SOCIAL AND PROFESSIONAL MOVEMENTS AND ORGANIZATIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 119)
INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY ORGANISATIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 33)
INDIVIDUAL ACTIVISTS (original endorsements but many more since then: 200+)
SOURCES & FURTHER READING
Repression against solidarity protesting women in Paraguay: https://nacla.org/paraguay-coronavirus-criminalization
Human Rights Watch report of the murders: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/12/02/paraguay-flawed-investigation-argentine-girls-killings
New York Times article on the case: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/11/world/americas/paraguay-military-girls.html
UN criticism of the special forces in 2015: https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/UN-Condemns-Human-Rights-Violations-in-Paraguay-20150401-0002.html