RIGHT TO HUMANE TREATMENT
American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man – Article I. Every human being has the right to the security of his person.1
1. Since 1973 the Commission has received and forwarded to the Government of Uruguay the pertinent parts of numerous denunciations and other communications on physical and psychological torture of individuals deprived of their freedom, specifying in detail the time and place of the mistreatment. The Government, in its response to each request for information, has categorically denied that torture or other mistreatment are used in center of detention, arrest or confinement, and has consistently maintained that “there is constant medical attention” and that prisoners receive “special attention.”
2. Largely because of the irreconcilable discrepancies between the information provided by the Government and the more than 100 denunciations received alleging the use of physical and psychological torture, the Commission felt it necessary to conduct an observation “in loco” in order to reach some final opinion with regard to these individual cases. Such a visit would have enabled us to see an take testimony from individuals allegedly tortured or to compile other statements, in the place specified by the claimants. This procedure has been extremely beneficial in inquiries into similar charges in other countries.
3. Many of the denunciations describe the types of physical and psychological torture used, as alleged, against detainees during interrogation sessions and detention. The descriptions are in agreement on the major points. By way of example, presented below is one of the most succinct and precise descriptions received, taken from case 1929.
a) Wall-standing: the prisoner must remain standing in a fixed position, sometimes with the arms upraised or holding weighty objects, with the legs kept well apart, for hours or days, sometimes nude and in the open air.
b) Beatings: of all types: karate; with sticks; with iron objects; with rubber bludgeons; fisticuffs, kicks, and so forth. Many prisoners have lost teeth, suffered fractured ribs, ruptured eardrums, and so forth.
c) Electric prod: application of electric current (if the torturers are careful and expert, 200 volts exactly are used, as 220 volts are regarded as fatal) to the most sensitive parts of the prisoners' bodies (gums, lips, eyes, ears, genital organs, breasts).
d) The submarine: repeated immersion, upside down, in a tank or water, generally mixed with vomit, blood or urine, until the victim is on the verge of asphyxiation. At times that threshold is passed and the prisoner dies.
e) The dry submarine: progressive asphyxiation is brought on by wrapping the head of the individual being tortured in a plastic bag or sack.
f) The stocks: the prisoner is tied to four stakes in the ground, generally nude and always in the open air, with arms and legs completely separated.
g) The horse: the nude prisoner is made to mount a sawhorse which keeps him from touching the ground. With his arms held open, the sawhorse is moved backward and forward so that the individual being tortured feels as if he were being sawed in half, while seriously injuring the genital organs.
h) The pau de arara: the individual being tortured is hung by the knees from a horizontal plank, with the hands and ankles tied together. This cuts off circulation of the blood; the body turns livid and the individual being tortured faints.
i) Sexual acts of violence: there are many cases where torturers violate women detainees (and at times male detainees) and where mutilating devices are inserted in the vagina or anus.
In many cases, the tortures are conducted in the presence of a physician who must indicate when the torment should be brought to a halt if death is to be avoided.
Generally speaking, the prisoners are hooded and have their eyes blindfolded. To the above cases, which do not cover all those that take place in actual fact, should be added the psychological torture resulting from simulating executions, false news of the death of members of the family, from torturing a spouse in the presence of the other, to a child in the presence of his father or mother, or vice versa.
4. The information contained in the numerous denunciations coincide as to the places of detention and interrogation where the aforementioned physical and psychological torture is applied.
5. The Commission transmitted these denunciations and communications in accordance with the special procedures provided for under Article 53, in order to verify the events.
6. In its response to Case 1929, the Government of Uruguay has rejected these denunciations by stating that “no form of torture or mistreatment is used in any place of detention, arrest or confinement.” However, the Government of Uruguay has confirmed for the Commission that a number of civilian detainees were hospitalized in military hospitals with traumatic lesions and other abnormal conditions which resulted, according to the Government, from confrontations with the authorities.
7. Transcribed below are the following paragraphs of Note 336, of September 9, 1974, sent by the Government of Uruguay with reference to Case 1973:
3. The list of individuals being held in the Armed Forces Hospital Center, which was attached to the communication to which I now reply and which was provided to the Senate of the Republic by the Ministry of National Defense, corresponds to the period of state of internal war and is a painful but logical consequence of war; at the same time it demonstrates the effective sanitary and medical assistance that the State provides to detainees.
It should be pointed out that the list in question does not include the names of those members of the Armed Forces who died, were wounded or hospitalized, who were, nevertheless, many.
4. Using that background information the list of detainees in question should be studied within the frame reference specified, which in no instance allows one to assert that the individuals were hospitalized because of injuries resulting from “mistreatment and torture.”
The real reasons for hospitalization of these individuals are the activities and confrontations that subversive and seditious elements had with the Armed Forces of the Republic during the internal state, during the course of which it became evident that the subversive not only totally ignored the most basic notions of the rights of the human person, but also lacked the most rudimentary vestiges of humanitarian sentiments.
8. The list referred to in this statement covers the period from mid-April to the beginning of September 1972, and contains names accompanied by a variety of diagnoses including “dead on arrival” and “attempted suicide.”
9. In this case where the presence of traumatic lesions and similar injuries on individuals under custody is confirmed but where it is denied that these are the results of the use of physical and psychological torture, as denounced, in a note dated June 3, 1974 the Commission requested that the Government of Uruguay provide the following information:
b) Whether or not a determination has been made as to the causes of the injuries that led to the hospitalizations in question; and
c) If in connection with some of these allegations—and if so which—an investigation has been conducted, and by what authority, into the possible commission of torture in detriment to the individuals hospitalized; should such investigation have been conducted, the findings of same.
10. In view of the fact that the Government of Uruguay gave no substantive reply to these questions, on December 17, 1974, the Commission addressed a note to the Government reiterating its request for information in an effort to obtain the concrete data necessary.
11. More than five months after the Commission's request for information regarding Case 1793, on May 23, 1975 the Government requested a 90-day extension, as follows:
This request is prompted by a desire on the part of the authorities of my country to be able to submit a detailed report to the Commission over which you preside as to the case that you mention. That information is now being prepared.
12. On September 10, 1975 the Government of Uruguay sent is response. However, that response was merely a repetition of the information provided in Note 336 of September 9, 1974, with a verbatim transcription of paragraph 4 of that communication, quoted above.
13. In view of this response, at its thirty-sixth session (October 1975) the Commission decided to make the following recommendation to the Government of Uruguay:
That it adopt the necessary measures so that an investigation may be conducted by the competent legal authorities as to the actual causes of the hospitalizations in question, with a view to determining the possible commission of acts in violation of the right to life and to the security and integrity of the individual, as upheld in Article I of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and eventual punishment of those responsible. The Commission also decided to request the Government of Uruguay to kindly report, before December 31 of that year, on the measures ordered in accordance with the foregoing recommendations and any results obtained.
14. This resolution was forwarded to the Government on October 24, 1975. After almost six months, the Government sent its reply through a note dated May 18, 1976:
1) As I stated to that Commission on my Government's behalf, through Notes 336/74-16.B.18 and 316/75-16.B.18, dated September 9 and September 10, 1975, respectively, the real causes for those hospitalizations are the activities and confrontations that subversive and seditious elements had with the Armed Forces of the Republic during the state of internal war decreed by the General Assembly; for that reason my Government feels it is both contrary to law and counterproductive to conduct an investigation “as to the actual causes of the hospitalizations in question” as that Commission recommends.
2) Even if we supposed that my Government were to adopt the recommendation in question and thereby wishes to investigate what it knows perfectly well, the actual impossibility of conducting the investigation would become apparent inasmuch as the hospitalizations to which reference is made in the note to which I reply and the confrontations that caused them took place approximately four years ago, throughout the country, during a state of internal war.
Case Nº 1793 to which this reply refers is still undergoing processing.
15. The overall situation of the right to physical integrity was exacerbated by the provisions of Article 4 of Law Nº 14.493 of December 29, 1975, which suspended during 1976, “prison or case visits by the Supreme Court of Justice, visits organized in accordance with paragraph 1 of Article 73 of the Code of Organization of the Military Courts with respect to the crimes provided for under Article 15 of Law Nº 14.068 of 1972.”
1 American Convention on Human Rights – Article 5.
1. Every person has the right to have his physical, mental, and moral integrity respected.
2. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment. All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.
3. Punishment shall not be extended to any person other than the criminal.
4. Accused persons shall, save in exceptional circumstances, be segregated from convicted persons, and shall be subject to separate treatment appropriate to their status as unconvicted persons.
5. Minors while subject to criminal proceedings shall be separated from adults and brought before specialized tribunals, as speedily as possible, so that they may be treated in accordance with their status as minors.
6. Punishments consisting of deprivation of liberty shall have as essential aim the reform and social readaptation of the prisoners.