We Demand that the President of Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benítez, guarantee the return of 14-year-old girl Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba (“Lichita”), kidnapped by the Joint Task Force — FTC — of the Paraguayan army on November 30, 2020. She is the daughter of political prisoners Carmen Villalba and Alcides Oviedo, imprisoned for 17 years.
The kidnapped 14-year-old girl is part of a group of five girls living in Argentina who traveled to Paraguay with a family member, Laura Villalba, sister of Carmen Villalba, mother and aunt of the girls, in order to visit their relatives and parents in prison.
On September 2, 2020, the FTC carried out an operation in which María Carmen and Lilian Mariana Villalba, 11-year-old Argentinean girls — Laura’s daughter and niece — were executed. They were ambushed, tortured and shot in a clandestine operation, with the Paraguayan army claiming that they were engaged in combat with the Paraguayan People’s Army (Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo-EPP).
The bodies of the girls were violated, their clothes were changed to guerrilla uniforms to appear as if they were rebel fighters, and they were immediately buried with the excuse of the COVID pandemic. To date, the Argentinean Forensic Anthropology Team has been prevented from proceeding with their exhumation to verify the cause of their deaths; their clothes were burned to hide the evidence; the lawyer of the families at the time, Daisy Irala Toledo, was denied access to the files and an analysis of the bodies. And an independent commission of international experts was prevented from carrying out their investigation.
Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez used the ambush as an example of a successful battle against the insurgent group EPP, a media coup to try to hide the social discontent of Paraguayan workers and farmers, who are demanding employment and medicine, and protesting eviction from their lands, impunity and corruption.
On his Twitter account, the Paraguayan president included his photograph with members of the FTC — whose faces are barely visible. “We have had a successful operation against the EPP. After a confrontation, two members of this armed group have been killed.” https://twitter.com/MaritoAbdo/status/1301264499228520449
The official photo was presented at a press conference where the president informed the nation about the “successful operation” together with high ranking military and civilian members of the government. The president lied. Those killed were not two members of the EPP. They were two 11-year-old Argentinean girls.
The Argentinean government issued a strong denunciation. In Press Information Note No. 241/20 of September 4, 2020, it expressed: “The Argentinean Government demands that the Paraguayan Government clarify and identify those responsible for the deaths of two eleven-year-old Argentinean citizens. We strongly reject any official expression that seeks to cover up responsibility.”
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize winner, denounced at a news conference on January 14: “The Paraguayan government must know that the crimes committed against the two girls are crimes against humanity and that they never prescribe” and demanded that “Licita be returned alive.”
After the murder of the two Argentinean girls, the persecution of the Paraguayan government and the FTC against the group, witnesses of the attack, began.
Laura Taffetani of the Lawyers’ Union denounced what happened on September 2nd as “the beginning of a relentless hunt against the Villalba family.” She stated that “Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba “Lichita”, her aunt Laura, the girls Tamara Anahí — Lichita’s twin sister — and her cousin Tania Tamara managed to flee through the bush, hiding until November 20th. While a group of three farmers were trying to get them to safety, there was another clash with the army. Lichita was hit in the leg by a bullet and the farmers were killed. The group broke up and went separate ways to escape the ambush, and both Laura and the other two girls lost contact with Lichita.”
“From witness statements, it is known that Lichita was captured. Laura was detained by the Joint Task Forces. Lichita’s sister and Tania Tamara managed to cross the border thanks to help from Paraguayan locals and arrived in Argentina on December 23rd.”
Marisa Graham of the National Ombudsman’s Office for Children of Argentina, reported the appearance of the twin of the missing girl, before the Committee on the Rights of the Child based in Geneva, at the United Nations.
Laura Villalba, later confirmed as a detainee, was accused of being a key “logistical element” for the “terrorist organization.” Until her arrest, Laura had been living in Argentina for more than ten years with her family, where she worked, studied and where her children were born. One of them was María Carmen Villalba, murdered together with her niece, Lilian Mariana Villalba.
UN High Commissioner’s concern – February 5, 2021-
“The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, is deeply concerned by recent reports in Paraguay of the disappearance of a 14-year-old girl, Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, and the lack of progress in the investigation into the murder of two 11-year-old girls, Lilian Villalba and María Carmen Villalba.”
“According to available information, Carmen Elizabeth, a Paraguayan citizen, witnessed an operation carried out five months ago, on September 2, 2020, by the Paraguayan Joint Task Force against members of the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), in the area of Yby Yaú, approximately 370 kilometers north of Asunción.”
“New reliable testimonies have come to light, according to which Carmen Elizabeth was wounded in the September 2 operation, but fled, while Lilian and Maria Carmen were captured alive. This evidence contradicts the official version of the Paraguayan government that the 11-year-old girls were killed in a clash with the Joint Task Force.”
“Requests for an independent forensic study were ignored. Instead, Paraguayan authorities filed charges of association with terrorism against the girls’ mothers, who live in Argentina, and their aunt, Laura Villalba.”
“It includes determining why a full forensic examination was not carried out prior to the burials, or subsequently after allegations of a possible extrajudicial execution arose.” It reaffirms the need for “an independent forensic examination” to determine how the killings occurred.”
“The High Commissioner calls on Paraguayan authorities to urgently search for the missing girl, Carmen Elizabeth (…). The High Commissioner calls on Paraguayan authorities to provide information on the current situation of Laura Villalba Ayala and to ensure that she is afforded all her rights under international law, including access to a lawyer and the right to family visits.”
The Diocese of Concepción explains that “Paraguayan authorities use the pretext of the EPP’s insurgency methods — which they claim as “terrorists” — to criminalize the economic and social demands of the farmers. Campesino trade unionists are assassinated by the army and presented as false positive “guerrillas” — while families are displaced by the army and forced to hand over their land to landowners or Brazilian companies.”
The Human Rights Coordinator of Paraguay (Codehupy) denounces the impunity of the administrations following the Stroessner dictatorship, as an institutional practice towards the most humble sectors, “during almost 25 years of post-dictatorial governments — between February 3, 1989 and August 15, 2013 — 115 leaders and members of campesino organizations were executed and/or disappeared.”
The surviving girls who managed to reach Argentina, Tamara Anahí and Tania Tamara, testified before the United Nations Rapporteur on Summary Executions. In their testimony, they stated that María Carmen and Lilian Mariana Villalba were alive when they were detained.
The Argentinean Lawyers Guild, an accompanying organization before the United Nations, confirms that the deaths of the 11-year-old Argentinean girls were the result of executions by firing squad.
The horror we have recounted takes us back to the practices of the military dictatorships that devastated Latin America. These despicable acts, which are crimes against humanity, kidnapping, torture, and execution of minors, murder of campesinos, forced disappearance of a minor, illegal detention and false charges, show the true face of the impunity with which Paraguay is governed.
We hold President Mario Abdo Benítez and his cabinet responsible for the physical integrity of Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba “Lichita” and demand that she be returned alive.
We condemn the government of Paraguay, the Joint Task Force — JTF — for the execution of the two Argentinean girls.
We repudiate the murderous Paraguayan State, a continuation of the Stroessner dictatorship.
We call on the women of the world this March 8th, International Women’s Day, to incorporate the demand that Lichita be returned alive. The call for justice — a trial and punishment of those responsible for the executions of María Carmen Villalba and Lilian Mariana Villalba, the cry for the freedom of Carmen and Laura Villalba.
May our cry resound throughout the world and not cease until the lives of our girls and sisters and the right of the Paraguayan people to their freedom are respected.
Adriana Doncel and Graciela Ramírez – Argentina; Patricia Jiménez and Ariana Campero- Bolivia; Carmen Diniz – Brazil; Fedora Lagos-Chile; Viviana Mejía-Colombia; Beatriz Santamaría and Yaimi Ravelo – Cuba; Alicia Jrapko – United States; Patricia Moncada and Clara Sastre – Spain; Gloria González Justo – France; Tatiana Vorreas –Greece; Rosario Valenzuela – Guatemala; Rita Martufi y Geraldina Colotti- Italy; Wafica Ibrahim – Lebanon; Areej Alkhawaja- Palestine; Vania Ramírez – Sweden; Ana María Bereau- Uruguay
The International Committee for Peace, Justice, and Dignity
March 6, 2021