Uruguay has missed a historic opportunity in the pursuit of justice for victims of human rights abuses committed during military rule by failing to overturn a controversial law that blocked prosecution of security officials accused of violations, Amnesty International said today.
Uruguayan politicians were today unable to reach an agreement to annul the effects of the 1986 Expiry Law, a move that Amnesty International and Uruguayan human rights activists and relatives of the victims have repeatedly called for.
“This would have been a huge step forward for the victims of egregious human rights abuses committed during Uruguay’s military dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Deputy Director of the Americas programme at Amnesty International.
“Uruguay has a moral and legal obligation to provide justice to those who suffered from torture and other abuses – not to protect their torturers from investigation and trial.”
Amnesty International has maintained that the Expiry Law is, in practice, a blanket amnesty that for many years has protected alleged rights abusers and runs counter to Uruguay’s obligations under international law.
The law was proposed by the democratically elected government of Julio Maria Sanguinetti and approved by Uruguay’s Congress in December 1986.
Under the law, Uruguay’s president had final discretion to decide which claims of human rights abuses could be investigated.
Uruguay’s military dictatorship lasted from 1973-1985 and during its peak an estimated 7,000 political prisoners were detained, the overwhelming majority of whom claimed they were tortured.
Popular consultations in 1989 and 2009 kept the Expiry Law in effect, but recent court rulings have challenged the law’s reach.
Uruguay’s Supreme Court has on several occasions found that the Expiry Law was unconstitutional because it violated constitutional provisions as well as Uruguay’s international obligations.
On 24 March 2011, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that Uruguay was responsible for the disappearance in 1976 of María Claudia García, daughter-in-law of the Argentinean poet Juan Gelman, and for hiding the identity of her daughter Macarena Gelman.
“A chance to turn a very difficult page by removing a norm that in practice put those responsible for human rights violations above the legal system, in violation of the principle of equality before the law, has slipped through the hands of the Uruguayans,” said Guadalupe Marengo.