Bishops in Paraguay condemn death of two girls in anti-guerrilla operation

Bishops in Paraguay condemn death of two girls in anti-guerrilla operation

In a file photo, members of the Paraguayan Army patrol near where suspected members of a little-known rebel group killed eight soldiers in Arroyito town, in northern Paraguay, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016. The attack was allegedly carried out by the Paraguayan People's Army. (Credit: Aldo Rojas/AP.)

Last week, during a clash between a guerrilla movement in Paraguay and the military, two girls from Argentina were killed by government forces, leading to the Catholic Church released a statement condemning the use of children as “cannon fodder” for criminal activities.

ROSARIO, Argentina—Last week, during a clash between a guerrilla movement in Paraguay and the military, two girls from Argentina were killed by government forces, leading to the Catholic Church released a statement condemning the use of children as “cannon fodder” for criminal activities.

The two girls, both aged 11, were daughters of leaders of the Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army.) This militia group clashed with the Fuerza de Tarea Conjunta (FCT), a joint task force of the military in the country. The incident took place on Sep. 2 in Yby Yaú, in the country’s northern region.

“We express our total disagreement with the despicable use of children for criminal activities,” says a statement released on Saturday by the Archdiocese of Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital.

The unsigned statement from the archdiocese, published on the diocesan website, also condemned the fact that “two innocent girls were used as cannon fodder.”

Yet, seeing what happened, Church officials “also ask ourselves: What prior information did the FTC have available to carry out this military action and what were its results?”

All violence, the statement reads, leads to greater acts of violence. In this case, after news broke that two girls had been killed in the incident, there was uproar in the country, with groups of protesters vandalizing a historical monument where fallen army members are buried and the Oratory of the Assumption of the Virgin.

The archdiocese argued that these attacks, where a flag of Paraguay was burned, “are manifestations of hatred and an offense against the Nation and God. This is not the way to build brotherhood or peace in the country.”

Peace and dialogue, they argue, are the only way out to the many problems facing Paraguay, a nation where approximately 89 percent of the population – close to 6 million people – identify as Catholic.

The Paraguayan People’s Army is a relatively small communist guerrilla movement, that is believed to have only 50 to 80 members, but which has still staged a number of armed operations including bombings, arson attacks, shootings and kidnappings.

On Sunday, the bishops’ conference of Paraguay released a statement expressing “grief for the loss of human life, which in this case meant the violent death” of two girls. Authorities had claimed that the two girls looked “older” and closer to adulthood than their actual age.

“The life and dignity of the human person are not subordinated to any justification or superior cause,” the bishops wrote.

They also questioned the operation itself, saying that the procedures are “confusing and have left many doubts and questions,” and called on authorities to make all the necessary efforts to clarify the events as soon as possible.

The rule of law, the bishops wrote in Sunday’s statement, requires public organizations to adjust their decisions and actions to the law, and procedures must be governed by “criteria of absolute transparency, proportionality and justice, safeguarding the dignity of people at all times.”

Jan Jarab, the South America representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, released a statement on Sunday saying that Paraguay must impartially investigate without delay “the deaths of two girls during an operation carried out this week by State agents.”

“This is a very serious event that ended the lives of two girls whom the State had to protect, as part of its obligation to guarantee the human rights of all girls, boys and adolescents in the country,” wrote Jarab, who claimed his office had received “disturbing information” about attempts to manipulate the evidence of what happened.

He also considered “crucial that during the investigation international human rights standards are taken into account, particularly the Minnesota Protocol,” referring to the United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extralegal, Arbitrary or Summary Executions.

The government of Paraguay responded to the statement, saying that at no point had Jarab or the UN Human Rights commission requested the official report of the incident.

In addition, the government said the UN Human Rights commission avoided pointing its finger at a guerrilla movement that regularly uses children in combat zones, only to then accuse the joint task force of killing minors.

On the other hand, the bishops wrote that the Catholic Church “condemns violence, whatever its origin,” including “structural violence of social inequity that generates exclusion and deprives large sectors of the population, especially children and the elderly, of essential goods for a dignified life, and that threatens social peace.”

“Likewise, [the Church] categorically rejects any act of violence from extremist groups that act outside the law, and urges the government authorities to make every effort to identify and punish them according to the laws that regulate our nation,” the prelates wrote.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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