The following information is based on the Amnesty International Report 2021/22. This report documented the human rights situation in 149 countries in 2021, as well as providing global and regional analysis. It presents Amnesty International’s concerns and calls for action to governments and others.
URUGUAY 2021After initial delays, the Covid-19 vaccination programme made progress. Nevertheless, policies to address the pandemic were not able to reverse pre-existing structural inequalities, which were exacerbated and had a particular impact on the economic, social and cultural rights of the most vulnerable sections of the population. Record rates of imprisonment often resulted in inhumane prison conditions. The year saw the highest number of deaths in prison in recent history. Violence against women continued to escalate, with a rise in the number of reported femicides. Although several military personnel were prosecuted for crimes against humanity committed during the civil-military regime (1973-1985), no substantive progress was made in clarifying the fate of those forcibly disappeared under that regime. There were obstacles to accessing public information, particularly regarding sexual and reproductive health.
BackgroundThe political and social agenda was dominated during the year by social mobilization to collect sufficient signatures to trigger a referendum to derogate 135 articles of the Urgent Consideration Act (LUC),approved in 2020. National and international human rights organizations expressed concern about the impact of the Act’s broadly worded provisions, which could negatively impact human rights, in particular public security, the rights of prisoners and freedom of expression.
Freedom of expressionEight journalists faced legal actions for the content of their reports, mostly initiated by members of parliament or the government. In June, the House of Representatives approved an “emphatic rejection” of a report, published by the German news network Deutsche Welle, that alleged that freedom of the press was under threat in Uruguay and that there were restrictions on the right of access to public information.
Right to informationSeveral public information requests received no or unsatisfactory responses. Information about sexual and reproductive rights, previously issued periodically, was not published in 2021. Authorities refused access to the contracts with the Covid-19 vaccine providers. A bill to amend Law No.18.381 on access to public information was under consideration by parliament at the end of the year. If approved, the amendments would put additional conditions on requests for, and so restrict access to, information and represent a backward step in terms of transparency and freedom of information. Civil society organizations questioned official statistics regarding crime and expressed concern that the reduction in crime rates was the result of public security policies that did not take into account academic evidence showing the impact of the pandemic in lowering crime rates.
Inhumane prison conditionsAlready harsh prison conditions deteriorated during the year. According to official data provided by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Penitentiary System, the prison population increased steadily, reaching 13,852 inmates in December. According to the World Prison Brief, in 2021, Uruguay had the highest rate of incarceration per capita in South America. In the context of intense overcrowding and insanitary conditions, the number of people who died in prison from natural causes rose by 154% in 2021 compared to the previous year.
Right to truth, justice and reparationSeventeen current or retired members of the military and police were convicted of torture, kidnapping and killing under the civil-military regime in the 1970s and 1980s. No substantive progress was made in the search for victims of enforced disappearances during that time as no new evidence was found at the excavation zones and those suspected of criminal responsibility did not provide any new information.
Economic, social and cultural rightsAccording to the Centre for Economic Research and the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the policies adopted by the government were insufficient to redress the impact of the pandemic on poverty, employment and economic activity. In addition, decisions over cuts in public spending, public wages and pensions led to lower real wages, and cuts in public spending had a significant impact on people’s well-being, especially those living in situations of vulnerability.
Right to healthAlthough the roll-out of the vaccination programme was delayed due to the late purchase of supplies, it managed to reach 78% of the population with at least with one dose and 75% with two doses. This led to a lifting of restrictions and a reduction in the number of patients in intensive care and coupled with the country’s robust universal health system, resulted in a positive health situation as regards Covid-19 towards the end of 2021. Public policy failed to address increasing mental health needs, despite calls for improvements in this area by specialists. According to the Ministry of Health, in 2021 there was a 20% increase in the suicide rate compared to the mean average of the previous five years.
Sexual and reproductive rightsPregnancies in girls under 15 remained a largely unacknowledged problem, despite 60 births and 47 abortions involving girls in that age group in 2020, the latest year for which statistics were available. Although there was a protocol in place for the care of children under 15 who are pregnant and a notification system for health teams dealing with such cases, public policy in this area remained inadequate. In addition, comprehensive sexuality education was not implemented in a comprehensive and consistent manner. The abortion law in Uruguay, which was changed in 2012, allows first trimester abortion on request. However, difficulties in accessing abortion persisted in rural areas, where health centres were less accessible, and medical professionals refused to perform abortions on grounds of conscience. In addition, political figures made speeches seeking to discourage abortion among people living in poverty; such discriminatory statements could signal a major setback for sexual and reproductive rights in the country.
Violence against women and girlsAccording to the Observatory on Gender-Based Violence and Access to Justice, the number of femicides increased in 2021; 30 femicides were recorded. Changes by the Ministry of the Interior in the way reports of gender-based violence are registered had a direct impact on statistics, as repeated offences by the same individuals were no longer recorded as separate incidents, but rather as a single complaint. There were also obstacles to the implementation of the law on gender-based violence (Law No. 19.580) because of the failure to allocate the resources needed to establish multipurpose courts able to deal with all matters related to gender-based violence.
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