Uruguay Human Rights

Areas of Concern: Impunity, Prison Conditions, Violence against Women, Sexual and Reproductive Rights.


Impunity for human rights-related crimes in Uruguay continues to remain a paramount concern. Prisons are overcrowded, and have been deemed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture as cruel and inhumane detention centers. Violence against women and sexual and reproductive rights are other areas of concern in Uruguay.

In July 2011, a presidential decree issued in Uruguay opened the door for investigations and prosecutions of an estimated 80 cases of human rights violations committed from 1973-1985. The decree invalidated the effects of the 1986 Expiry Law (Ley de Caducidad de la Pretensión Punitiva del Estado) which was approved after Uruguay returned to democratic rule, giving the Executive the final say over which cases of human rights violations could be investigated. In most instances in the past, Presidents have used this power to close cases, effectively allowing individuals responsible for crimes the ability to evade justice.

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In October, the Supreme Court of Justice ruled unanimously that the 1986 Law on the Expiration of the Punitive Claims of the State (Expiry Law) was unconstitutional in the case of former President Juan María Bordaberry (1971-1976), thus allowing the trial to continue. He was charged with 10 cases of homicide. This was the Court's second landmark ruling on the Expiry Law, which prevents the prosecution of police and military officials for crimes committed under military rule. However, the ruling applies only to the case at hand and therefore does not provide for the reopening of previously archived cases. In October members of Congress presented a bill that would declare three articles of the Expiry Law null and void. The Chamber of Deputies approved the bill, but it remained pending before the Senate at the end of the year.

  • In November, Uruguay admitted before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that it had committed human rights violations in the case of María Claudia García Iruretagoyena de Gelman, who was subjected to enforced disappearance in 1976, and her daughter, María Macarena Gelman García, who was born in detention and raised by another family. The case is still pending before the Inter-American Court.
  • General Miguel Angel Dalmao and retired Colonel José Chialanza were provisionally detained in November in connection with the torture and killing in custody of Nibia Sabalsagaray in 1974.

Prison Conditions

In March, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture presented his report on his visit to Uruguay in 2009. He called on the government, among other things, to undertake fundamental reforms of the criminal justice and penal systems, including the closure of prisons with cruel and inhuman conditions of detention, in particular "Las Latas" in Libertad Penitentiary where prisoners were held in metal boxes, and Modules 2-4 in COMCAR prison.

Concerns about prison overcrowding intensified following a fire in the Rocha prison in July in which 12 inmates died. Days later, an Emergency Prison Law was approved, which provides for increased funding for building and improving prison facilities. The Law also allows, as a temporary and exceptional measure, the housing of prisoners in military facilities.

Violence Against Women

According to women's rights organizations, 26 women were killed in the first 10 months of the year. The state's response to cases of violence against women remained inadequate and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture drew attention to the failure to implement the national Action Plan on Fighting Domestic Violence.

Sexual and Reproductive Rights

In September, the President approved a decree on implementation of a 2008 law on sexual and reproductive rights. The decree sets out the obligation of health service providers to give advice on sexual and reproductive health to women and teenagers and confirms that contraception must be provided free of cost.