FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
350 Fifth Avenue, Ste 4515
New York, NY 10118
Voice: (212) 246.8486
Fax: (212) 643.4278
Paraguay: President Lugo’s Removal is Constitutional, not a Coup
NEW YORK (JUNE 26, 2012)—Last Friday Paraguay’s congress voted to remove President Fernando Lugo from office. The entire impeachment process (or “juicio político”) was based on Art. 225 of Paraguay’s constitution and lasted only two days. The presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela rushed to describe Lugo’s removal as a coup d’état.” The presidents of Brazil and Uruguay called for Paraguay’s expulsion from Mercosur, Unasur, and the Organization of American States (OAS), in application of those organizations’ democracy clauses.
After a careful legal investigation, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) has determined: (1) that the presidential succession in Paraguay was constitutional; (2) that it was consistent with the OAS’s Inter-American Democratic Charter (2001), Mercosur’s Ushuaia Protocol on Democracy (1998) and Unasur’s Additional Protocol on Democracy (2010); and (3) that the new government of Paraguay must be fully recognized by the international community.
“The democratic order has remained intact in Paraguay in spite of the swift impeachment trial that led to President Lugo’s removal from office,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “Although politics and emotion run high with regard to Lugo’s removal, we urge the OAS and others to consider the facts and the law.”
A coup d’état exists when four elements concur: first, the victim is the head of state; second, the perpetrator uses violence or coercion to remove the victim from his post; third, the action is sudden; and fourth, the action clearly violates the constitutional procedure to remove the head of state.
Since there was no violence or coercion involved in the ousting of Lugo, it was not a coup d’état. As a forcible overthrow did not take place, only a different form of unconstitutional interruption or alteration of Paraguay’s democratic order would legally grant diplomatic sanctions against the new government.
Art. 225 of Paraguay’s constitution gives congress the power to remove the president on three grounds—“poor performance of his duties,” “crimes in the exercise of his duties,” or “common crimes.” There follows a two-step procedure: (1) a formal accusation by the house of representatives; and (2) impeachment by the senate. On June 20, the house formally accused President Lugo of “poor performance of his duties,” and the next day the senate found him guilty of the charge, subsequently removing him.
President Lugo was given only two hours to present his defense before congress. This swiftness caused some human rights groups such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to express “deep concern” regarding a perceived denial of due process guarantees to the president during his impeachment trial, thus suggesting that an “impeachment coup” took place.
“Given the vagueness of the concept ‘poor performance of his duties’—arguably, any president performs poorly from the perspective of an opposition legislator—the due process guarantees in Paraguay’s impeachment process are clearly not meant to lie in the length of the proceedings,” said Javier El-Hage, HRF’s international legal director. “Rather, they are based on a supermajority vote requirement—two-thirds of the total members of each chamber.”
The impeachment trial of Lugo was initiated by a 76-4 vote in the house, and decided by a 39-6 vote in the senate, largely exceeding the constitutional minimum. An overwhelming majority of legislators decided to remove him from office.
“Paraguay gives so much power to its legislative branch to remove the president because it suffered through 35 years of military dictatorship under General Alfredo Stroessner,” said Halvorssen. “It learned from historical experience that strong checks on the executive are necessary.”
In 2009, HRF was the first NGO to call for the removal of Honduras from the OAS for the forcible and unconstitutional removal of President Manuel Zelaya. HRF’s 300-page legal report was accepted as evidence by the Honduran Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which later based its final determination—that a coup occurred in Honduras—on HRF’s conclusions.
“What just happened in Paraguay is not, in any way, what took place in Honduras almost three years ago,” said El-Hage. “President Lugo was removed legally through an impeachment trial, carried out on vague but legitimate and constitutional grounds. Principle, rather than politics, should guide the judgment of the OAS and others in the international community.”
HRF is a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that protects and promotes human rights globally, with an expertise in the Americas. We believe that all human beings are entitled to freedom of self-determination, freedom from tyranny, the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council is chaired by pro-democracy activist Garry Kasparov, and includes former prisoners of conscience Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.
Contact: Pedro Pizano, Human Rights Foundation, (212) 246.8486, firstname.lastname@example.org