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Paraguay: Short Shrift for Due Process in Impeachment

(Washington, DC) The impeachment process that led to the removal from office of President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay on June 22, 2012 showed a lack of respect for due process.

The Chamber of Deputies initiated the process on June 21, accusing Lugo, among other reasons, of being responsible for clashes between police officers and peasants that led to 17 deaths on both sides in mid-June. The following day, the Senate carried out the impeachment trial, lasting less than five hours, during which Lugo had only two hours to present his defense. The Senate promptly found him guilty and removed him from office. Media accounts said the Senate rejected Lugo's request for additional time to prepare his defense. Federico Franco, Lugo's vice president, took office as Paraguay's president on the same day.

“The extremely rapid process to impeach former President Lugo raises questions about his ability to adequately defend himself,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “A process that leads to the removal of an elected head of state and does not respect basic due process guarantees is a serious blow to the rule of law.”

Lugo's impeachment followed a procedure provided for in article 225 of the Paraguayan constitution, which establishes that the president can be impeached if he "performs poorly his functions" or commits crimes. The constitution requires a two-thirds majority vote to support the accusation by the Chamber of Deputies, followed by a public trial in the Senate. A two-thirds majority vote by the Senate is required to remove the president from office.

The constitution, however, also provides for the right to defense in any process that "could lead to a penalty or sanction" and explicitly states that every individual has a right to "indispensable time to prepare the defense."



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