REPORT ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN URUGUAY
1. Since early 1973, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has received an increasing number of denunciations alleging serious violations of human rights in the Republic of Uruguay, human rights proclaimed in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (American Declaration) and established in international instruments ratified by that country. Those denunciations largely refer to arbitrary detention of individuals who allegedly have been submitted to physical and psychological torture by Government personnel; in some cases the denunciations allege that the victims have died, have been disabled, or have even disappeared; they also allege denial of the right to fair trial and to due process of law.
2. In view of the denunciations in question on alleged violations of the rights upheld in Articles I, IV, XVIII, XXV and XXVI of the American Declaration, the Commission, in compliance with the provisions of Article 9 (bis) a and b of its Statute, decided to transmit those denunciations in accordance with the special procedure provided for under Article 53 of the Regulations, establishing beforehand whether or not they satisfied the other regulatory requirements.
3. However, the progressive deterioration and worsening of the situation of human rights in Uruguay posed the need for a general study of the denunciations involving individual cases as well as other information received from various sources.
4. To this end, the Commission considered, among other factors: a) the nature and seriousness of the events; b) the number of complaints; c) the delay in or inadequacy of the Government's replies in many instances, or its refusal to provide extremely important elements of judgment requested by the Commission such as copies of autopsy reports; d) the Government's failure to indicate in any way the adoption of measures necessary to prevent and or curb abuses on the part of its agents, committed in application of the prompt security measures (Medidas Prontas de Seguridad).
5. At its thirty-ninth session (October-November 1976), the Commission decided to prepare a report on the situation of human rights in Uruguay. On that same occasion, the Commission decided to approach the Government of Uruguay to obtain its permission so that a special commission of the IACHR might visit that country in order to conduct an observation “in loco” to supplement the information the Commission already had available (Article 11 of its Statute and Article 50 of its Regulations).
6. In compliance with a mandate from the Commission, Dr. Andrés Agular, Chairman of the IACHR, spoke with Mr. José María Araneo, Alternate Delegate of Uruguay to the OAS, on November 6, 1976, and advised him of the Commission's decision to prepare a report on the general situation of human rights in Uruguay and to request the Uruguayan Government's permission for an observation “in loco”. In connection with the latter point, Mr. Araneo was informed that the Commission had decided to communicate this decision on a confidential basis in order to investigate the possibility of an invitation from his Government.
7. Shortly before its fortieth session (January-February 1977), the Commission was informed that Ambassador Alvaro Alvarez and Mateo Marques Seré, Special Delegates of the Uruguayan Government, would travel to Washington in order to explain to the Commission the Uruguayan Government's viewpoints in connection with this matter. At that session the Commission did in fact receive Ambassadors Alvarez and Marques Seré and agreed to wait until March 31, 1977, for the Uruguayan Government's response.
8. On March 24, 1977, the Acting Representative of Uruguay, Mr. Araneo, spoke with the Acting Executive Secretary of the Commission informing him, in accordance with instructions received from his Government, that Uruguay has confirmed and does confirm its traditional dedication to and efforts aimed at defending human rights; however, that the Government is not at present able to consider a visit by the Commission for the following reasons, among others: domestic and international juridical reasons; aspects related to national sovereignty; the absence of legal grounds meriting so exceptional a procedure as a visit and untimeliness.
9. This conversation was recounted in an “Aide Memoire” prepared by the Secretariat of the Commission and subsequently brought to Mr. Araneo's attention.
10. On April 15, 1977, Mr. Araneo, Acting Representative of Uruguay to the OAS, sent to the Acting Executive Secretary of the IACHR the following communication:
I have the honor to address the Acting Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in order to place on record the following clarifications and reservations regarding Press Communiqué Nº 2/77 issued by that Commission on 4/13/77 and received by this Mission on 4/14/77.
The sole purpose of these clarifications and reservations is strict adherence to the truth which is distorted in certain passages of that Press Communiqué.
First, it should be pointed out that during the informal and confidential conversation that the Chairman of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had with the undersigned on November 6, 1976, no mention was made of the Commission's intention to submit a report on the situation of human rights in Uruguay to the next regular session of the General Assembly of the OAS.
Secondly, the communication that this Delegation transmitted to the Acting Executive Secretary of that organ on March 24 last, in accordance with instructions received from its Government, states, verbatim, the following:
“Regarding suggestions made to OAS Uruguayan Representative and reiterated to Ambassadors Alvarez and Marques by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to the effect that the Government invite it to visit Uruguay, that Commission is hereby informed that Uruguay has confirmed and does confirm its traditional dedication to and efforts aimed at defending of human rights, and that the Government is not at present able to consider such invitation, for the following reasons, among others:
1) Presence of domestic and international juridical reasons.
2) The existence of aspects related to national sovereignty.
3) In light of the processing of the denunciations presented to the Commission, absence of legal grounds meriting so exceptional a procedure as a visit, as the aforementioned Ambassadors recently informed the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
4) Reasons of timeliness and the fact that the problem has become a matter of public concern in another country.”
Certain that the Commission will adopt the necessary measures to properly disseminate the foregoing clarification and reservations, accept, Mr. Acting Executive Secretary, the renewed assurances of my highest consideration.
José María Araneo
11. In a note dated April 20, Mr. Charles Moyer, the Acting Executive Secretary of the Commission, forwarded to Mr. Araneo the following communication from the Chairman of the IACHR:
I hereby acknowledge receipt of your letter of 15 April 1977, concerning Press Communiqué Nº 2/77 issued by the Commission on 13 April 1977.
Your letter was brought to the attention of the Chairman of the IACHR, Dr. Andrés Aguilar, whose cabled response, dated today, I quote for you below:
“FIRST: In the conversation that the Chairman of the Commission had with Mr. Araneo on 6 November 1976, he made it clear to him that the IACHR had decided to prepare a report on the situation of human rights in Uruguay. The Chairman did not specify that this report would be presented to the next regular session of the General Assembly for consideration, but it is obvious that the reports of the IACHR are presented to the Competent Organ on the first possible occasion, so that they are as up-to-date as possible. Therefore, it was logical to infer that having taken the decision to prepare this report at its thirty ninth session (October-November 1976), the Commission's objective could be none other than to present it at the Seventh Regular Session of the General Assembly.
“SECOND: At its thirty-ninth session (October-November 1976), the IACHR decided to request the Government of Uruguay's permission to conduct an observation 'in loco' in that country, in order to complete the information it had available on the situation of human rights in that country. It also decided to give the Government of Uruguay the opportunity to have the visit conducted by Government invitation and not as the result of a formal request filed by the Commission. The Chairman of the IACHR explained this to Mr. Araneo during the aforementioned telephone conversation of November 6, 1977 and it was made very clear to Ambassadors Alvarez and Marques Seré during their visits to the IACHR at the fortieth session (January-February 1977). If after receiving, through Mr. Araneo, the Uruguayan Government's final reply the permission for the planned visit was neither formally nor expressly requested, it was because this measure was felt to be useless in light of its response.”
Please accept the assurances of my highest consideration.
Assistant Executive Secretary
12. At its forty-first session (May 1977), the Commission approved a report on the situation of human rights in Uruguay, preparation of which had been agreed upon at its thirty-ninth session. That report was presented to the Government of Uruguay on July 11. In a note dated September 12, the Government of Uruguay forwarded to the Commission its observations on the aforementioned report.
13. In view of all the events cited above and after carefully considering the observations made by the Government, at its forty-second session (November 1977), the Commission decided to formally request the Uruguayan Government's permission to visit the country and to conduct an observation “in loco”; this decision was implemented through the following cable sent by the Chairman of the Commission to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, Mr. Alejandro Rovira, on November 10, 1977:
DURING ITS PRESENT SESSION, THE COMMISSION WHICH I PRESIDE EXAMINED THE DOCUMENT IN WHICH YOUR EXCELLENCY'S GOVERNMENT FORMULATES ITS OBSERVATIONS TO THE REPORT ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN URUGUAY, WHICH THE COMMISSION ITSELF APPROVED AT MEETING Nº 534, HELD ON MAY 24, 1977, AND WHICH IT HAD THE HONOR TO TRANSMIT TO YOUR EXCELLENCY THROUGH A NOTE OF JULY 11 LAST.
AT THIS TIME THE COMMISSION WILL NOT ADDRESS ITSELF TO THE BASIC QUESTIONS POSED IN THAT DOCUMENT OR TO ITS TONE. WHAT BECOMES EVIDENT IN LIGHT OF THAT DOCUMENT IS THAT THERE ARE DISCREPANCIES BETWEEN THE OPINION THAT THE COMMISSION, USING THE MEANS THAT IT HAS BEEN ABLE TO OBTAIN UP TO THIS POINT, HAS FORMED REGARDING THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THAT COUNTRY, WHICH HAS BEEN THE SUBJECT OF NUMEROUS COMPLAINTS AND DENUNCIATIONS, AND WHAT THE URUGUAYAN AUTHORITIES CONSIDER TO BE THE FACTS OF THE MATTER.
UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES THE COMMISSION FEELS THAT IT IS MORE THAN EVER NECESSARY TO TAKE IMMEDIATE STEPS TO CLARIFY, BEYOND ANY DOUBT AND LEAVING NO ROOM FOR UNFOUNDED SUSPICIONS, BOTH THE EXISTING SITUATION AS REGARDS RESPECT FOR OR VIOLATION OF THOSE NORMS THAT GUARANTEE HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RECTITUDE AND LEGITIMACY OF THE MEASURES AND PROCEDURES THE COMMISSION HAS USED TO DATE IN ORDER TO ESTABLISH THOSE FACTS.
DIRECT OBSERVATION OF THE EVENTS AND CIRCUMSTANCES THAT COMPRISE THAT SITUATION STANDS OUT AS ONE OF THE BEST MEANS TO ACHIEVE THAT END; THEREFORE THE COMMISSION, WHICH FOR SOME MONTHS NOW HAS ATTEMPTED TO REACH AN AGREEMENT WITH URUGUAYAN AUTHORITIES ON THE MANNER OF CONDUCTING AN OBSERVATION “IN LOCO”, HAS COME TO A UNANIMOUS DECISION TO REQUEST ITS PERMISSION AND COOPERATION IN ORDER TO CONDUCT THAT OBSERVATION ON THE DATE AND UNDER THE CONDITIONS AGREED UPON. THEREFORE, I HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH TRANSMITTING THAT REQUEST TO YOUR EXCELLENCY, A REQUEST I HEREBY FORMALLY SUBMIT THROUGH THIS COMMUNICATION.
IN THAT REGARD I FEEL IT APPROPRIATE TO ADD FOR YOUR EXCELLENCY'S INFORMATION THAT THE COMMISSION IS PREPARING TO CONDUCT SIMILAR VISITS IN THE NEAR FUTURE TO FOUR COUNTRIES, IN SOME INSTANCES AT THE INVITATION OF THE RESPECTIVE GOVERNMENT.
ACCEPT EXCELLENCY THE RENEWED ASSURANCES OF MY HIGHEST CONSIDERATION.
14. In a cable dated November 15, 1977, sent by Mr. Alejandro Rovira, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, to the Chairman of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Dr. Andrés Aguilar, the Government of Uruguay denied the Commission's formal request for permission to conduct an observation “in loco” in the following words:
I HAVE THE HONOR TO ACKNOWLEDGE RECEIPT OF YOUR TELEX OF NOVEMBER 10 OF THIS YEAR IN WHICH, AFTER FORMULATING CERTAIN OBSERVATIONS—TO WHICH I SHALL ADDRESS MYSELF BELOW--, YOU FORMALLY REQUEST, BY UNANIMOUS DECISION OF THE IACHR, MY GOVERNMENT'S PERMISSION AND COOPERATION IN ORDER TO CONDUCT AN OBSERVATION “IN LOCO” ON THE DATE AND UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES AGREED UPON.
IN THIS REGARD I MUST INFORM YOU:
1) THAT IT IS A SOURCE OF GREAT CONSTERNATION THAT WHILE NOT REFERRING TO THE BASIC QUESTIONS RAISED IN THE DOCUMENT IN WHICH MY GOVERNMENT FORMULATES ITS OBSERVATIONS ON THE REPORT OF THE IACHR ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN URUGUAY AND AFTER HAVING MADE SERIOUS PREJUDGMENTS IN THAT REGARD IN THE REPORT, THE COMMISSION NOW COMES TO A FORMAL DECISION TO REQUEST THE RESPECTIVE PERMISSION AND COOPERATION OF MY GOVERNMENT IN ORDER TO CONDUCT AN OBSERVATION “IN LOCO”.
2) THAT THE AFOREMENTIONED FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS RAISED BY MY GOVERNMENT IN THE DOCUMENT IN QUESTION, AS WELL AS ITS TONE, HAVE PRECISE BEARING UPON AND CONFORM TO THE BASIC QUESTIONS OF THE AFOREMENTIONED REPORT ON THE IACHR, WITH ONE BASIC DIFFERENCE, WHICH I WOULD LIKE TO EMPHASIZE: THAT WHILE THE IACHR IS AN ORGAN OF THE OAS (ARTICLE 51 OF THE CHARTER) WHOSE PRINCIPAL FUNCTION IS “TO PROMOTE THE OBSERVANCE AND PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND TO SERVE AS A CONSULTATIVE ORGAN OF THE ORGANIZATION IN THESE MATTERS” (ARTICLE 112 OF THE CHARTER), URUGUAY IS A SOVEREIGN STATE WITH MEMBER STATUS IN THE OAS.
3) THAT THERE IS CLEAR EVIDENCE OF DISCREPANCIES BETWEEN THE IACHR'S OPINION OF THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN URUGUAY AND THE OPINION THAT THE URUGUAYAN AUTHORITIES REGARD AS THE PREVAILING SITUATION IN ITS TERRITORY IN THIS REGARD. THESE DISCREPANCIES FLOW NATURALLY FROM A READING OF THE RESPECTIVE REPORT OF THAT COMMISSION AND OF THE OBSERVATIONS THAT MY GOVERNMENT FORMULATED ON THE DOCUMENT IN QUESTION.
4) THAT MY GOVERNMENT AGREES THAT FOR THE IACHR “IT IS MORE THAN EVER NECESSARY TO TAKE IMMEDIATE STEPS TO CLARIFY, BEYOND ANY DOUBT AND LEAVING NO ROOM FOR UNFOUNDED SUSPICIONS, BOTH THE EXISTING SITUATION AS REGARDS RESPECT FOR OR VIOLATION OF THOSE NORMS THAT GUARANTEE HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RECTITUDE AND LEGITIMACY OF THE PROCEDURES THE COMMISSION HAS USED TO DATE IN ORDER TO ESTABLISH THOSE FACTS.”
5) THAT THE GOVERNMENT OF URUGUAY HAS PROVIDED THE IACHR ALL THE COOPERATION IT HAS WITHIN ITS REACH, BY FURNISHING IT THE PERTINENT INFORMATION ON DENUNCIATIONS FORWARDED TO IT ON PRESUMED VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS.
6) THAT IT HAS BEEN UNABLE TO CONSIDER THE POSSIBILITY OF INVITING THE IACHR TO CONDUCT AN OBSERVATION “IN LOCO”—AS SUGGESTED BY THE COMMISSION IN NOVEMBER 1976—FOR THE REASONS GIVEN TO THE COMMISSION IN MARCH OF THIS YEAR IN RESPONSE TO THAT REQUEST AND RECENTLY DISCUSSED AT LENGTH IN A DOCUMENT CONTAINING THE OBSERVATIONS OF THE GOVERNMENT OF URUGUAY ON THE REPORT OF THE COMMISSION ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THIS COUNTRY.
7) THAT AS FOR THE PERMISSION THAT THE IACHR FORMALLY REQUEST AT THIS TIME IN ORDER TO CONDUCT THAT OBSERVATION, MY GOVERNMENT REGRETS THAT IT IS UNABLE TO GRANT IT, NOT ONLY FOR THE REASONS ALREADY GIVEN, WHICH ARE STILL VALID AND EQUALLY APPLICABLE, BUT ALSO BECAUSE STILL OTHER REASONS NOW APPLY AS A RESULT OF THE PROCEDURES THAT THE IACHR EMPLOYED IN RELATION TO MY COUNTRY, COMMENTED ON AT LENGTH BY THE DELEGATION OF URUGUAY AT THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY HELD IN JUNE OF THIS YEAR IN GRENADA, AND AS A RESULT OF THE LACK OF OBJECTIVITY AND THE TONE OF THE IACHR'S REPORT ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN URUGUAY.
THEREFORE, THERE ARE NOWHERE NEAR THE MINIMAL NUMBER OF CONDITIONS PRESENT, NORMALLY REQUIRED IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO AGREE TO SO EXCEPTIONAL A PROCEDURE AS THAT OF A VISIT, WITH THE CLEAR AND INEVITABLE POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS THAT IT NECESSARILY PRESUPPOSES.
8) I HAVE TAKEN NOTE THAT THE IACHR IS PREPARING TO CONDUCT SIMILAR VISITS IN THE NEAR FUTURE TO FOUR COUNTRIES SOME OF THESE BY INVITATION FROM THE RESPECTIVE GOVERNMENTS.
THE GOVERNMENT OF URUGUAY, WHILE RESPECTING THE CONDUCT AND JUDGMENT OF THE OTHER GOVERNMENTS IN HANDLING THEIR INTERNAL AFFAIRS, ABSTAINS, AS APPROPRIATE, FROM FORMULATING ANY COMMENT IN THAT REGARD.
ACCEPT, MR. CHAIRMAN, THE ASSURANCES OF MY HIGHEST CONSIDERATION.
MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
OF THE EASTERN REPUBLIC
15. The Government's refusal to permit an observation “in loco” neither impedes nor exempts the Commission from fulfilling its statutory duties. Thus, in preparing this report, the Commission took into account the information provided by the Uruguayan Government in response to its requests, the information provided by the claimants, and other date obtained from various sources, by virtue of the provisions contained in Article 9 (bis) b of the Statute and Article 50 of the Regulations.
16. The Commission reasserts its position, applied in previous cases, that nothing in this report implies any prejudgment with respect to individual cases now being processed in the Commission as a result of denunciations or complaints alleging violations of human rights of particular individuals. Each one of these cases will be decided upon in due course, upon completion of the relevant procedures.
17. Furthermore, it is neither the purview nor the intention of this Commission to make this a comparative study or an assessment of political events that took place in Uruguay in recent years. This does not mean that the Commission has not taken into consideration the existence of an armed conflict between the Government of Uruguay and urban guerrillas since the beginning of 1970, which led to the adoption of temporary exceptional measures which suspended certain fundamental rights and guarantees of the individuals.
18. Overall, the Commission has repeatedly condemned practices used by groups which, in an attempt to impose their political and ideological opinions, resort to all forms of criminal activity such as murder, kidnapping, assault, maintenance of private jails, and cruel treatment. On the other hand, on other occasions the Commission has generally maintained that the authorities cannot deprive subversives of the minimal treatment to which enemy combatants and prisoners are entitled both during international wars and during armed conflicts that are not international in nature.1
19. Therefore, this report is limited to an objective examination, to the extent that the available facts allow, as to whether or not human rights as a whole are currently upheld and adequately protected in Uruguay, without prejudice to that indicated in the foregoing paragraphs.
20. In general the report follows the format used by the Commission when studying the situation of human rights in other states. The material has been divided into separate chapters, following, as a rule, the order in which the various human rights appear in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. Only those rights with regard to which adequate information has not been provided during the period covered by this report have been omitted.
Those chapters are preceded by a special study on the legal norms in force in Uruguay and all information that has any bearing upon the protection of human rights.
21. Finally, the Commission wishes to reassert that it has made note of the observations presented to it by the Government of Uruguay in September of 1977, in its response to the preceding report submitted by the Commission to the Government of Uruguay in May of 1977; in updating the content of this report on the basis of new information and facts the Commission had available, those changes were made that were considered necessary in light of those observations and background information.
1 The four Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, which comprise the so-called Humanitarian International Law and to which the American states, including Uruguay, are parties, contain the following common standards.
Article 3 – In the case of armed conflict and of an international character, occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:
1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
b) Taking of hostages;
c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
d) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous
judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial
guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.