The Ache people of Paraguay have filed a criminal complaint of genocide and crimes against humanity committed against their people by various citizens, military and officials in the Paraguayan government for their role in the displacement, murder, enslavement and rape of the Ache from the 1950s through the 70s.
Based on evidence provided by survivors as well as anthropologists, human rights advocate, attorneys, journalists, priests and others, the story of what happened to the Ache people of Paraguay was presented to the Fifth Federal Court in Argentina in April after Paraguayan officials refused to prosecute the case.
According to Aitor Martínez, a Spanish attorney who is on the legal team that had filed the charges on behalf of the National Ache Foundation, they are awaiting trial dates from Argentine Judge Norberto Oyarbide. Judge Oyarbide agreed to hear the case based on the legal principle of 'universal jurisdiction' that allows for prosecution of charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in a foreign court if the judicial system of the home country did not prosecute the case.
In a recent interview, Martínez said that then Paraguayan President Alfredo Stroessner was informed of the atrocities by Paraguayan activists, officials from the United Nations and others but President Stroessner did not take any steps to stop the violence; some testimony also alleges that Stroessner, a United States ally at the time, spent time with pre-adolescent indigenous girls who had been forced into prostitution.
Martinez pointed out that in the 52-page document entitled "Criminal Complaint of the Commission of the Crime of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity in Paraguay Against the Ache People," they provide the long history of the abuses, how they were discovered and publicized by many people, and then ignored by Paraguayan, U.S., British and other governments.
Starting in the 1950s the Ache of eastern Paraguay were forced off of much of their land by ranchers and other colonists. Some colonists then staged raiding parties, invading Ache communities where they would kill male residents and abduct women and children who were then sold as slaves to wealthy Paraguayans with some of them being forced into prostitution.
The Paraguayan government then forced some Ache into concentration camps where they were further abused and exploited according to Martinez and others.
One of the observers who sounded an alarm about the horrific situation was Professor Richard Arens, an attorney from the U.S. who wrote a book entitled Genocide in Paraguay in 1976. In his review of the book published by the Carnegie Council, David Weisstub summarized part of the story.
"The book contains thorough accounts of eye-witnessed events which have been publicly exposed by scholars in Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and the United States. We are confronted with the realities of men, women and children being mowed down by hunting parties, sold into slavery, raped and fatigued by a racist culture. The book also underscores the unsettling silence of the international press, particularly in North America."
One of Arens sponsors was Survival International (SI), which also publicized what was happening to the Ache in Paraguay. SI listed several examples of the abuses committed against the Ache.
"One of the most notorious hunters of the Aché was Manuel Jesús Pereira, a local landowner. He was an employee of Paraguay’s Native Affairs Department, and his farm was turned into an Aché “reservation,” to which captured Aché were transported. Beatings and rape were common. Countless others died of respiratory diseases. The Director of the Native Affairs Department was a frequent visitor, and also sold Aché slaves himself."
Martinez added that several of the accused abusers are alive and have been identified, as has several of the Ache children who had been abducted and sold. These children, now adults, have provided testimony for the case he noted.