The story of Cristian and Marcelino – two 14-year-olds recruited to military service in Paraguay who disappeared – is also the story of thousands of other child soldiers in the country. Thanks to lobbying from Diakonia's partner organisation among others, the government has now decided to stop the military's recruitment of children.
Recruited at the age of 14
Cristian Núñez and Marcelino Gómez abandoned school early because their families were poor and needed their help to support the family. One August day in 1997, these two 14-year-old boys went to the recruitment centre in Caaguazú where the Army received them and registered them as 18-year-olds.
Six months later, the Army informed the boys’ families that they had disappeared. No one knows how, and the Army has changed its story about what happened many times. The boys’ mothers, Doña Deogracia and Doña Zulma, reported their disappearance, but the case was dropped.
“The Army sent masked men to my house, who beat me so that I would take back the report. They said I should stop making trouble. My husband became very depressed from all this suffering and died a year ago. I lost everything because of the Army,” says Doña Deogracia.
Serpaj takes up the case
Diakonia’s partner organisation SERPAJ had already been working on similar cases for several years when the boys’ families asked them to help. SERPAJ tried to take up the case within the country's justice system, but no one would touch a case that had to do with the Army.
In October 2000, the organisation therefore turned to the Inter-American human rights system. After a long and drawn out process, the Paraguayan State agreed to a settlement process in November 2009. The State admitted its responsibility for the disappearances and paid compensation to the families.
Several reports about human rights violations
During this period, SERPAJ published several reports on violations of human rights within the Army. All this attention led to the Parliament appointing a Commission of Enquiry that confirmed SERPAJ’s picture of the situation. SERPAJ pursued the issue further on the international plane, which led among other things to the UN issuing a number of recommendations to the State of Paraguay.
No more child soldiers
All the pressure being brought to bear has finally led to the recruitment of child soldiers now having ceased.
Military service in Paraguay has changed and hopefully in the future conscripts will not meet with the same fate. It is also important to monitor that the promises made by the State are being implemented in reality. The Army is not the only part of the State apparatus that commits crimes. Checking up and lobbying must include other institutions so as to achieve a general rule of law and respect for human rights in Paraguay. With SERPAJ’s help, Doña Deogracia will also be continuing the fight to know the full truth.
Will continue to seek the truth
“So long as I can still walk I will continue to seek the truth about what happened to Cristian. To know this is the most important thing in life for me. I have a lot of patience and I know that with God's help, I will succeed,” concludes Doña Deogracia.