"Defensores" is a platform designed to provide public defenders with a tool to register allegations of torture. This project was carried out in partnership with two key actors in the subject: The Ministry of Public Defense (MDP) and the National Mechanism for Prevention against Torture (MNP). Its implementation facilitates the effective and permanent monitoring of torture by public defenders and generates qualified information for different institutions and society in general. It's the first platform that systematises and allows to visualize cases of torture in Paraguay according to the application of the Istanbul Protocol and organisers hope that it later could be could be an example to be replicated by other countries.
Torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are considered crimes under international law, so there is a worldwide prohibition to commit them. Paraguay has a particularly brutal record in the commission of these crimes during the Stroessnner dictatorship. However, these practices did not end with the dictatorship. According to reports from the MNP and the United Nations Committee against Torture, the commission of these crimes remains in force. The risks of suffering torture generally occur in situations where people are deprived of their liberty.
As TEDIC is an NGO committed to the fulfillment of Human Rights and the development of civic technology to defend rights, the Ministry of Public Defense (MDP) approached to propose the idea of the project to TEDIC. Institutionally, this problem was identified as a strategic cause in the sense of an opportunity to apply civic technology to combat these practices that violate fundamental rights. TEDIC believe civic technology has the potential to generate positive impacts at the collective level, so the DEFENDERS initiative emerged: a platform designed to provide public defenders with a tool to register allegations of torture. This project was carried out in partnership with two key actors in the subject: the Ministry of Public Defense (MDP) and the aforementioned National Mechanism for Prevention against Torture (MNP). In that regard, an “Interinstitutional Cooperation Agreement" was signed. After the legal link between TEDIC and public institutions, a series of meetings were initiated that allowed a more coordinated and in-depth work to understand the implications of the platform, the specific needs of the public institutions involved, and the realities and possibilities offered by the technology.
Within that framework, the public institutions in question facilitated the entry of TEDIC alongside public defenders and officials, to the state penitentiary "Tacumbú" , allowing the needs of public defenders to be assessed in situ. Likewise, the institutions provided the forms and questionnaires used by public defenders when interviewing persons deprived of liberty, which constituted a key input for the creation of the platform. This is how the project was materialized; which consisted in the creation of a Web platform and Mobile application that allows a sustained record of cases of torture within the police stations and prisons of Paraguay. Its implementation facilitates the effective and permanent monitoring of these types of crimes by public defenders and will generate qualified information for different institutions such as the National Torture Prevention Mechanism (MNP), media, journalists, civil society organizations and the citizens in general. The platform consists of two sections, a mobile application for internal use for the MDP and a website where data, statistics and a map of the allegations of torture made will be displayed. Four workshops were held on the use of the platform in the different MDP units, both in the capital and in Villarica, Encarnación and Ciudad del Este, where 80 public defenders were trained in conjunction with the MNP. Additionally communication materials were made and distributed to sensitize the general public in these issues.
The platform was made based on international standards of respect for the right to privacy, and under cybersecurity criteria. Regarding the right to privacy, understanding that the platform contains sensitive information, it must necessarily be anonymous, according to a general principle of data protection. Thus, only defenders can access the platform to load and / or modify the data. In turn, both the mobile application and the web manage a closed list of users so that only these people have access. Thus, there are 3 different roles: defender, coordinator and observer. The defender can create and modify complaints they have made, the coordinator can see the complaints, and the observer (general public) can only see the statistics created on the complaints. These statistics are displayed anonymously: that is, observers will never see the names of those who reported the events.
Regarding cybersecurity criteria, all measures have been taken to ensure that it is a secure platform. It is also important to mention that the web platform and the application are published as free software which means that the source code is available, so that anyone can analyze it, promote modifications and find errors. The platform was officially launched in October of 2019. The first complaint was registered in November. This project marks a regional precedent of work and articulation between the State and civil society for the defense of human rights against torture.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Defensores is a platform of great relevance for the defense of human rights in the country and the region, being the first initiative with these characteristics in Latin America. Prior to the creation of the platform, the Ministry of Public Defense used paper forms. The use of the platform speeds up the work of public defenders by opening the possibility of covering more cases and thus extending protection to victims. On top of this, it allows citizens to exercise active monitoring of allegations of torture since it enables access to citizenship to data that was previously not publicly accessible.
The platform was made based on international standards of respect for the right to privacy, and under cybersecurity criteria. It is also important to mention that the web platform and the application are published as free software.
It's the first platform that systematizes and allows to visualize cases of torture in Paraguay according to the application of the Istanbul Protocol and TEDIC hope that later could be could be an example to be replicated by other countries.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The technology was presented and 80 public defenders were trained in conjunction with the National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture, thus fulfilling the objective of sensitising the defenders on the use of the “Registration Form for alleged acts of torture, cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment ”established by the resolution of DGN 69/19 of the Ministry of Public Defense, presenting the Training Manual also.
The technology administration is already within the state's own servers.
The first two complaints of torture were recorded on the platform. It was informed by the Ministry of Public Defense that once the cases are studied in greater depth, and if applicable, they would forward the complaints to the Public Ministry.
Collaborations & Partnerships
This project was carried out in partnership with two key actors in the subject: The Ministry of Public Defense (MDP) and the National Mechanism for Prevention against Torture (MNP). In this regard, an Inter-institutional Cooperation Agreement was signed. They facilitated the entry of TEDIC to the state's penitentiary and provided the forms and questionnaires used by public defenders when interviewing people who deprived of liberty, which constituted a key input for the creation of the platform.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
There are 3 different roles: defender, coordinator and observer. The defender can create and modify complaints that he/she has made, the coordinator can see the complaints and the observer (general public) can only see the statistics created on the complaints. The public web platform enables access citizens, civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and media platforms to access these data that was not previously publicly accessible.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The platform was launched on October 22nd of 2019. The first complaint of torture was recorded on the platform during the same week. It was informed by the Ministry of Public Defense that once the case is studied in greater depth, and if applicable, they would forward the complaint to the Public Ministry. Around 200 public defenders are now registered users.
1200 posters with legal advice were distributed to be placed in police stations in the country to inform about the rights of people deprived of liberty.
This project sets a regional precedent of work and articulation between the National State and civil society for the defense of human rights against torture. It is the first platform in Paraguay that systematizes and allows to visualize cases of torture, cruel and inhuman treatment based on the application of the Istanbul Protocol (Manual of Investigation and Effective Documentation on Torture), and they hope that it would be an example to be replicated by other countries.
Challenges and Failures
One of the great challenges presented in the framework of the execution of this project was to understand the different working rhythms of the different sectors that were involved (state, civil society and private company (hired programmers)). Organisers overcame this challenge as they adapted themselves, found the best times they had in common, and framed the activities and expectations about developments based on a collective work on how to improve time deliveries more effectively.
Additionally, TEDIC noticed that the state does not easily provide for mechanisms to work with civil society in an effective manner, which also represented a challenge. Nonetheless, the process ended up enabling a significant possibility of articulation for future projects, and it also improved the working mechanisms that the state has when it comes to working with other sectors.
Conditions for Success
One of the most important points observed is the commitment and political will of two State institutions, responsible for safeguarding the security and defense of people, which represented a real positive result. Part of the success is due to the fact that there was a previous work of alliances between these two institutions, and in addition, one of them acts as a control of compliance with the State's commitments to the United Nations and requires that the information and data collected by the institutions of the criminal system meets international standards. It should be noted that the trust that TEDIC received from the MDP and MNP, is based on the trajectory of their organization, and the expertise they have in regards to working on technology, human rights and public policy issues.
The platform will generate data and statistics that are necessary for the protection of human rights; as well as serve as the basis for the generation of public policies.
The multi-sector work that was carried out allows to leverage the precedent for future collaborations of joint work between state and civil society.
The platform encourages citizens to be involved in monitoring human rights compliance, and it can be replicated in other countries given that is the first tool that is developed in the region with these characteristics and possibilities to generate a positive impact at a collective level.
The web platform and the application are published as free software. This means that the source code is available, so that anyone can analyze it, suggest modifications and find errors that need to be solved.
The development of the mobile application and web platform was implemented after an intense consultation process between TEDIC with the Ministry of Public Defense and the National Mechanism for Prevention against Torture, aiming to reach a Satisfactory system for all parties. That exchange enabled us to understand the state's work process and to meet with important actors in these issues; which will constitute as a a key aspect for future projects.
For TEDIC, this project was a huge opportunity to apply civic technology to combat these practices that violate fundamental rights. Civic technology has the potential to generate positive impacts at the collective level, so it's a very positive result to be able to apply civic technology for state work. This allows the state to apply this type of technology in the implementation of public policies.
The project has learning materials that seek to raise awareness about the protection of human rights and generate recommendations against cases of torture. These materials include explanatory brochures as well as audio cases with some accounts of victims of torture in the format of a podcast episode.