Press Release

Annex to Press Release 76/11 on the Preliminary Observations on the Visit to Uruguay by the Office of the Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty

July 25, 2011

1. Washington, D.C., July 25, 2011—The Office of the Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) carried out a working visit to the Republic of Uruguay on July 4-8, 2011. The delegation was made up of Commissioner Rodrigo Escobar (hereinafter, "the Rapporteur") and staff of the Executive Secretariat. The Inter-American Commission thanks the Uruguayan State for its cooperation in the delegation's various activities, the unrestricted access to detention centers, and the high degree of organization shown during the visit.

2. The purpose of this working visit was to verify the general situation of Uruguay's prison system, identify the main problems it is facing, and issue concrete recommendations to the State.

3. The delegation met with the Minister of the Interior, Eduardo Bonomi, and his technical advisers Silvia Izquierdo and Gabriela Fulco; Parliamentary Commissioner Álvaro Garcé; Deputy Foreign Minister Roberto Conde; Ambassador Ricardo González, General Director of Political Affairs; and the Assistant Director of the Foreign Ministry's Human Rights Office, Dianela Pi. At the Supreme Court of Justice, the delegation met with its President, Minister Leslie Van Rompacy; the Secretary of the Court, Carlos Alles Fabricio; and Julio Olivera Negrín, Minister of the Criminal Appeals Court. In addition, the delegation met with a significant number of civil society organizations that monitor the situation of persons deprived of liberty.

4. The Office of the Rapporteur team visited the Punta de Rieles Central Penitentiary, the Santiago Vázquez Prison Complex (COMCAR), the Libertad Complex, the Cabildo Women's Facility, and the Colonia Berro Detention and Reeducation Complex, in which it visited the Sarandí, Ituzangó, and Ser homes.

5. At the end of the mission, the Rapporteur participated in a colloquium on the human rights of persons deprived of liberty, an event geared toward prison management officials and held in the Amphitheater of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After the event, Commissioner Escobar Gil gave a press conference.

General Aspects

6. The Oriental Republic of Uruguay is a State party to the following treaties, among others, within the United Nations system: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol. It is also a party to all the human rights treaties adopted in the framework of the Organization of American States, including the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture. All these international instruments establish binding obligations related to the respect for and guarantee of the fundamental rights of persons deprived of liberty.

7. The national legal framework applicable to persons deprived of liberty consists basically of the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code. In addition, the following national laws are relevant: Decree-Law No. 14.470 (1975), on standards for incarceration; Law No. 17.726 (2003), regarding substitute or alternative measures to pretrial detention; Law No. 17.897 (2005), establishing a regime of exceptions for release on bail or parole (Law to Humanize the Prison System); Law No. 18.315 (2008), the Police Procedure Law; Law No. 17.648 (2003), creating the institution of the Parliamentary Commission for the Prison System; and Law No. 18.446 (2009), creating the National Human Rights Institute. Others include Executive Decree No. 225/06, regulating reduction of sentences for work and study (modified by Decree No. 102/09); Decree No. 226/06, regulating the integration into the work force of persons who are released; and No. 324/06, regarding the imprisonment regime at the Montevideo Central Prison.

8. Also applicable are the following specific regulatory norms governing the activities of the prison system: (a) those issued by the Ministry of the Interior—Resolution of 03/14/07, establishing a discipline and coexistence regime for persons deprived of liberty; Resolution of 06/13/07: Basic Information Handbook for persons deprived of liberty; Resolution of 02/13/08, general regulations on representative committees of persons deprived of liberty; and Resolution of 10/27/09, national rules on the use of cellular phones and similar technologies in prison facilities; and (b) Resolution 119/08—issued by the National Bureau of Prisons, Penitentiaries, and Recovery Centers—which approves the respective regulations on searches and seizures, the use of coercion measures in a prison environment, and the regime for visits and communications.

9. Uruguay has 30 prisons, all of them under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior; 11 of these are in the metropolitan area and are managed by the National Rehabilitation Institute,[1] and the remaining 19 are the responsibility of local Police Headquarters in the respective departments where they are located.[2] Juvenile facilities, meanwhile, are the responsibility of the System for the Implementation of Measures for Juvenile Offenders (SEMEJI, for its name in Spanish) of the Uruguayan Institute for Children and Adolescents (INAU).

10. According to official data from the Ministry of the Interior's Statistics and Strategic Analysis Division (current as of June 30, 2011), Uruguay has a total adult prison population of 9,067 inmates, of which 75% to 80% are in Montevideo and the greater metropolitan area. Of the total 9,067 adults imprisoned throughout the country, 3,631 are reportedly first-time offenders and 5,436 are repeat offenders, meaning that the average recidivism rate is currently around 60%.

11. In terms of distribution by gender, the male prison population is reportedly 8,353 and the female population is 714, or 7.8% of the total. According to information issued by the National Rehabilitation Institute's Advisory Department on Prison and Gender Matters (current as of June 30, 2011), of the country's total female prison population, 53 women were living in prison with their children (a total of 57 children), and 27 were pregnant. In addition, the Director of SEMEJI informed the delegation that at the time of its visit, a total of 437 adolescents were deprived of liberty.

Considerations by the Office of the Rapporteur

12. First of all, the Office of the Rapporteur welcomes the State's institutional recognition of the grave prison crisis the country is facing, as well as the government's express manifestation that it considers the situation of the prison system as one of its main priorities. In this regard, the Office of the Rapporteur recognizes the openness and transparency shown by the various authorities with whom it met during the visit, who acknowledged and provided information about the principal challenges in prison management in Uruguay. In addition, the Office of the Rapporteur takes note of the State's political will to come up with a criminal justice policy that transcends whatever administration is in office and is designed to promote comprehensive policies toward crime and the social reintegration of criminal offenders.[3]

13. The Office of the Rapporteur observes with satisfaction that the State has adopted certain concrete measures, including: an increase in public investment in the prison system; the recent closure of the module called "Las Latas" in the Libertad Complex, which in fact was one of the most urgent recommendations made by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture following a visit he made in 2009[4]; the opening of the Punta de Rieles Penitentiary as a pilot program and model for where to take other prisons in the country; and the provision of health-care services through the Administration of State Health-Care Services (ASSE), which so far has been implemented at COMCAR, Punta de Rieles, El Molino Penitentiary, and the National Rehabilitation Center, and which according to the State will be expanded in the future to other prison facilities.[5]

14. The various authorities who were interviewed stated that another 400 inmates are expected to be transferred to the Punta de Rieles Penitentiary in the next six months, and the Cabildo women's prison will be closed once all its occupants are transferred. In addition, in the medium term—in the 2011-2014 period—another 4,000 prison beds are expected to be added, half of which would be distributed throughout already existing facilities, through retrofit projects, and the other half of which would come from the subsequent construction of a new prison.

15. In addition, the Office of the Rapporteur takes note of the various legislative reforms undertaken in recent years (see above paragraphs 7 and 8), including the recently adopted Law No. 18.667, of July 13, 2010—called the prison emergency law, which was passed just a few days after the fire at the Rocha Prison—which, among other things, provides for the creation of 1,500 posts for prison staff. In addition, the State reported that a process currently underway to reform the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code essentially seeks to substitute the inquisitorial system now in effect to an adversarial system, which is expected to have the tangible effect of reducing the flow of individuals toward the prison system.

16. Finally, it should be noted that during this mission's various activities, the Office of the Rapporteur team noticed a high level of commitment and professionalism on the part of several of the officials responsible for prison management.

17. Nevertheless, despite the progress described above, the IACHR Office of the Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty observed serious shortcomings in the Uruguayan prison system.


18. Overpopulation in prison facilities is one of the most serious problems currently facing the Uruguayan prison system, a fact that has been extensively documented and recognized by the State itself.

19. According to official data from the Ministry of the Interior's Statistics and Strategic Analysis Division (current as of June 30, 2011), Uruguay has a total capacity of 7,061 prison beds for a total prison population of 9,067 inmates, which means it is at 129% of capacity. In the facilities in the metropolitan area, overcrowding is at a level of 139% and in the interior, 122%.

20. During its visits to prisons, the Office of the Rapporteur team observed that COMCAR, with a capacity for 1,636 beds, housed 3,120 individuals at the time, 200% of its capacity. The Cabildo women's prison, with a capacity for 150 inmates, housed 320, which meant it was also over 200% of its capacity. Likewise, the following proportions were observed during the visits to the Colonia Berro juvenile homes: Hogar Sarandí, with a capacity for 27, housed 36 adolescents; and Hogar Ituzangó, built for 22, housed 42.

21. In this regard, the Inter-American Commission reiterates that the overcrowding of persons deprived of liberty in itself constitutes a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, in violation of the right to humane treatment under the terms of Articles 5.1 and 5.2 of the American Convention. Overcrowding is also a factor that increases the levels of violence and friction among the inmates; makes it difficult for them to have even a modicum of privacy; reduces the space for access to showers, bathrooms, a patio, etc.; facilitates the spread of diseases; constitutes a risk factor for fires and other emergency situations; impedes access to already scarce opportunities for study and work, with the consequences that implies; and in short, creates serious problems in the management of prison facilities, for example affecting the ability to provide medical services and the functioning of the prison's security systems.

22. Another consequence of overcrowding is that it makes it impossible to classify inmates by category—for example, segregating the accused from the convicted—which in practice creates a general situation that goes against the provisions established in Article 5.4 of the American Convention. In addition, it is clear that the State must treat the accused differently, in accordance with respect for the rights to personal liberty and the presumption of innocence.

23. With respect to prison overcrowding, the IACHR has stated: "The law shall establish remedies intended to immediately address any situation of overcrowding. The competent judicial authorities shall adopt adequate measures in the absence of an effective legal regulation."[6] That is to say, the State must guarantee by law, and through effective judicial control, that prison accommodation levels are in line with a facility's actual capacity, in other words the capacity that corresponds to its structural specifications and characteristics.

24. Meanwhile, the IACHR recognizes that the creation of new prison capacity is an essential measure to combat overcrowding and bring the prison system in line with current needs; however, this measure alone does not represent a sustainable solution over time. Effective attention to the problem of prison overcrowding also requires the State to make more rational use of pretrial detention; promote the use of alternative or substitute measures to pretrial detention; and maximize the use of other measures appropriate to the implementation of sentences, such as probation, parole, and sentence reductions for work and study.[7] Without an analysis of the real causes of overcrowding and possible long-term solutions, all plans or projects for creating or retrofitting space will be nothing more than merely palliative approaches to a problem that will continue to increase inexorably with the passage of time.

Incarceration Conditions

25. In his visit to COMCAR, the Rapporteur observed that the infrastructure and sanitation and hygiene conditions at Modules 1, 2, and 4 are absolutely inadequate for housing human beings. These modules are dark, humid, cold, unhealthy spaces that are full of garbage, with no adequate openings for air and natural light, in which raw sewage drains out onto the floor and into the cells. In addition to being unhygienic, this creates an atmosphere thick with nauseating smells. The modules' infrastructure itself is totally corroded and worn out, and holes are visible in the walls and floors of the hallways. In these unhealthy conditions, the presence of persons who were carrying HIV was observed.

26. The Commission believes the housing conditions in these COMCAR modules are openly contrary to the respect for dignity inherent to every human being, and thus clearly violate the inmates' right to humane treatment. They also constitute an unhealthy and inadequate environment for the security agents who have to work in those spaces. These conditions are aggravated by the overcrowding at COMCAR, which is at 200% of capacity.

27. In light of the foregoing considerations, the IACHR recommends that the Uruguayan State close COMCAR Modules 1, 2, and 4 and transfer everyone housed there to other facilities where they can be guaranteed decent confinement conditions. During the visit it was observed that these structures are so deteriorated that any improvement or remodeling would be inadequate. The Commission also observes that the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, following his 2009 visit to Uruguay, had asked the State to "immediately close down" Modules 2-4 of COMCAR.[8]

28. In addition, both at COMCAR and at the Libertad Complex it was observed that there was a widespread presence of cables and connections improvised by the inmates, and that in each cell the inmates had stoves and other electric appliances, which seriously compromises the safety of these establishments. Moreover, it was observed that these facilities had large quantities of garbage and other waste, despite the fact that, as it was learned, the authorities had proceeded to clean them up in the days prior to the visit.

29. The Office of the Rapporteur team also saw the serious structural deficiencies at the Cabildo women's facility—an ancient building, constructed in 1898, whose facilities are no longer suitable for housing people, among other reasons because the place does not provide minimum safety conditions. During the tour of this facility, the Rapporteur was especially struck by the housing conditions of those women located in the "basement" for security reasons. It was observed that the women in that place lacked any adequate ventilation and openings for natural light, and they were in an unsafe space which would be very difficult to reach quickly in an emergency. Moreover, the women being held in this basement indicated that the presence of rats caused serious problems.

30. The Rapporteur was also struck by the fact that the free dental care provided to the inmates at Cabildo is limited to tooth extractions, and that several of the women complained of not having received specialized medical care.

31. The IACHR welcomes the fact that by the end of August of this year the prison authorities plan to transfer the Cabildo inmates to the National Rehabilitation Center (CNR), which is said to offer better housing conditions and the advantage that ASSE will be in charge of covering health-care services.

32. Similarly, the Office of the Rapporteur was struck by the deficient accommodations at Hogar Ser, in Colonia Berro, where the structures were obviously designed for locking people up and not for reeducating or reintegrating juvenile offenders.

33. In view of the foregoing considerations, the IACHR reiterates that when the State deprives a person of liberty, it becomes a guarantor of that person's fundamental rights and takes on the inalienable duty to guarantee his or her fundamental rights, particularly the rights to life and humane treatment. This implies, in point of fact, that the State must ensure that inmates live in decent conditions in which they can adequately meet their basic needs and which favor the possibility of social reintegration. Along these lines, the IACHR notes the following:

Persons deprived of liberty shall have adequate floor space, daily exposure to natural light, appropriate ventilation and heating, according to the climatic conditions of their place of deprivation of liberty. They shall be provided with a separate bed, suitable bed clothing, and all other conditions that are indispensable for nocturnal rest....[9]

Further, they "shall have access to clean and sufficient sanitary installations that ensure their privacy and dignity. They shall also have access to basic personal hygiene products and water for bathing or shower, according to the climatic conditions."[10]

Rocha Regional Prison (Cárcel Departamental)

34. In its Press Release No. 68/10, the IACHR referred to the fire that took place July 8, 2010, in Rocha Regional Prison, in which twelve people died and another eight were seriously injured. This fire occurred essentially because of the clear risk conditions present at that facility, such as overcrowding; the widespread use of electrical connections improvised by the prisoners, combined with the use of makeshift partitions set up inside the cells; and, generally, the fact that this is a late 19th century building that lacks minimum safety conditions.

35. During the visit, the Office of the Rapporteur team received information from the authorities and civil society organizations regarding the current situation at this prison. It observed that although the State has adopted some safety measures, some of the risk conditions that were present at the time of the fire continue to exist, such as the high level of overcrowding. In fact, according to information that comes from the Ministry of the Interior, on June 30 this prison had a population of 143 inmates, when its maximum capacity is for 65. In this regard, the IACHR observes that of these inmates, 86 (60%) are awaiting trial; thus, one logical measure to reduce the overcrowding—and thus the risk of another fire—is precisely for the relevant judicial authorities to review the need to maintain these 86 inmates in preventive detention and to consider the viability of granting other alternative measures.

36. The IACHR recalls that in the abovementioned press release it indicated that the State stands in a special position of guarantor regarding the rights of persons deprived of their liberty. This means that the act of imprisonment implies a specific and material obligation of the State to guarantee the life and personal integrity of the inmates. This obligation to guarantee implies that the State must take all the necessary measures to prevent any type of risk situation that seriously threatens prisoners' fundamental rights.

37. The IACHR welcomes the information it received days after this visit by the Office of the Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, indicating that the Ministry of the Interior has ordered the Rocha facility to be closed in December 2011 and that steps are already being taken toward that end.

Pretrial Detention

38. Another point of great concern to the Office of the Rapporteur is the widespread use of pretrial detention, and for periods of time that often exceed what is reasonable. In this regard, although the figures received from different sources vary, the delegation did observe that there is a constant, systematic practice of using pretrial detention automatically, which of course has repercussions for incarceration rates.

39. According to official data from the Ministry of the Interior's Statistics and Strategic Analysis Division (current as of June 30, 2011), of the total 9,067 inmates, 5,908 (65%) are awaiting trial and 3,159 have been sentenced. This difference is even more pronounced in the regional facilities, where those in pretrial detention constitute 71.8% of the total number of persons deprived of liberty.

40. In its visits to prisons, the delegation observed, for example, that at COMCAR the ratio of accused to convicted prisoners was 2,135 to 991, and in the Libertad Complex it was 630 to 539. In addition, according to official data from the Ministry of the Interior's Statistics and Strategic Analysis Division (current as of June 30, 2011), in the Cabildo women's prison the ratio of accused to convicted inmates was reportedly 227 to 77.

41. This situation seen in the statistics was corroborated through the many interviews conducted with inmates from all the prison facilities the delegation visited. A significant number of inmates stated that they were or had been in pretrial detention for periods of more than two years.

42. In a meeting the Office of the Rapporteur had with representatives of the judiciary, these representatives indicated that the use of pretrial detention on the part of criminal court judges is mandatory for particular crimes, and thus a judge would not be able to order any other measure. They indicated that the order to stand trial inherently includes preventive detention. They also stated their firm conviction that the seriousness of the crime is itself a circumstance that leads to a presumption that the accused will commit some act that would justify the need to order pretrial detention.

43. On that point, the Inter-American Commission emphasizes that in accordance with Article 9(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, "It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody." It states that the release of these persons may be subject to guarantees "to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgement." In other words, pretrial detention must be geared toward ensuring that the case can move forward. The possibility that the accused could interfere in or obstruct a case can in no way be inferred solely from the type of crime for which the person is being prosecuted, but rather must be based on specific circumstances of the accused that make it possible to establish the risk that he or she would evade trial, destroy evidence, or obstruct the judicial process.

44. The IACHR reminds the Uruguayan State of what the Commission said in its decision on the merits of the Periano Basso Case, in which it established:[11]

Both the “seriousness of the offence and [the] severity of the punishment” can be in principle taken into account when the risk of the detainee’s evasion is examined, but with the warning stated on the Report 12/96:

the use thereof to justify prolonged preventive imprisonment has the effect of impairing the purpose of the preventive measure, converting it, for all intents and purposes, into a substitute for the punishment depriving the prisoner of his freedom.”

And, “moreover, the anticipation of severe punishment, after a lengthy period of detention has elapsed, is an insufficient criterion for assessing the risk of the detainee’s evasion. The threat that the future sentence represents to the person in prison is vitiated if detention continues, while his or her perception that he or she has already served part of the sentence is heightened."

The Court has been more categorical by emphasizing “the need, enshrined in the American Convention, to justify the preventive detention in the specific case, after weighing its elements and that, under no circumstances, the application of such precautionary measure will be determined by the type of offences imputed to the individual."

....If a pre-trial detention during proceedings can only be used for precautionary purposes and not as sanction, then the severity of the eventual sentence should not necessarily justify a longer period of preventive detention.

Regarding this type of relation, under no circumstance, may the law stipulate that some type of offence be exempted from the established regime for the cessation of pre-trial detention or that some offences receive a different treatment regarding the possibility of release during the proceedings, if the reasons to do so are not grounded on objective and legitimate discrimination criteria; that is to say, merely indicating the existence of a “social alarm”, “social repercussion”, “dangerousness” or the like, should not be accepted. These judgments are based on material criteria, which impair the nature of the preventive measure, converting it into a real anticipated sanction, because the statement that all accused be sentenced precisely indicates the prior declaration of their culpability.

45. In this regard, the IACHR observes that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, in his 2009 Report on the Mission to Uruguay, suggested that many of the problems faced by the penitentiary system and the juvenile justice system are a direct result of the lack of a comprehensive criminal justice policy.[12] Along these lines, he said a major reason for the high number of persons deprived of their liberty was the slowness of the judicial system and the extensive use of pretrial detention, which he said seems to be a general rule rather than an exception.[13] With respect to the latter point, the United Nations Rapporteur concluded:[14]

In general, the use of imprisonment as the first and not the last resort has not curbed the rates of criminality or prevented recidivism. On the contrary, the great majority of Uruguay’s prisons are severely overcrowded and the risk of a total collapse of the penitentiary system is real.

....There is an urgent need to move away from a punitive penal and penitentiary system directed at locking people up. A comprehensive reform of the whole administration of justice system, introducing a new approach aiming at the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders in society, must be awarded the highest priority.

46. In view of the foregoing considerations, the IACHR recommends that the State of Uruguay carry out the necessary legal reforms to limit the use of pretrial detention, especially in the case of nonviolent and less serious crimes, and turn more often to alternative or substitute measures that do not involve deprivation of liberty. But above all, the IACHR urges the State to promote a change in the established judicial culture and practice, one that produces a real paradigm shift in thinking about the appropriateness and need for pretrial detention.

Prison Personnel

47. The Rapporteur received information from various authorities, including the directors of the prisons that were visited, who stated that the number of security guards is insufficient; that police agents' salaries do not adequately reflect the nature of their duties and the current cost of living in Uruguay; and that the conditions in which these agents works constitutes a risk to their health and exposes them to significant stress, which affects both them and their immediate families. In fact, within the ranks of the police, being assigned to serve in prisons is considered a type of punishment.

48. During the prison visits, the delegation observed that the number of agents assigned to security tasks is in fact insufficient for these facilities to be run properly, which in addition to having obvious effects in terms of security, also affects the ability to carry out other activities appropriate to running a prison. Further, the lack of adequate remuneration forces the agents who work in the facilities to perform other activities on their days off and makes them more vulnerable to receiving illicit funds from the inmates themselves or from third parties.

49. In this regard, the IACHR has indicated[15] that "personnel [responsible for persons deprived of liberty] shall comprise suitable employees and officers, of both sexes, preferably with civil service and civilian status." Moreover, it has stated:

Sufficient and qualified personnel shall be available to ensure security, surveillance, and custody, as well as to attend to medical, psychological, educational, labor, and other needs.

The personnel of places of deprivation of liberty shall be provided with the necessary resources and equipment so as to allow them to perform their duties in suitable conditions, including fair and equitable remuneration, decent living conditions, and appropriate basic services.

50. With respect to the work conditions of the agents who work in prison facilities, the Office of the Rapporteur notes the report done in 2006 by the Office of Human Relations of the Ministry of the Interior's former National Bureau of Prisons, which established that the negative labor conditions sustained over time had led to a scene of "discouragement, frustration, despair, resignation, work done on automatic pilot, reluctance to present proposals or initiatives for change, and a reduction in creativity. In short, a physical-emotional deterioration with sustained progression of psychosomatic and psychopathological diseases...." The study also presented a series of recommendations designed to prevent and treat the situation described.

51. In view of the foregoing, the IACHR recommends that the State progressively substitute the police personnel assigned to serve in prisons with a specialized civilian corps of prison personnel, and attend to the work conditions of the agents responsible for running the prisons. To that end, it urges the State to follow through on all the studies and recommendations that have been carried out by the relevant technical institutions.

Other Causes for Concern

52. In the course of the interviews of male and female prisoners in the various facilities that were visited, the inmates indicated consistently and repeatedly that the public defenders the State had assigned to represent them had not acted with due diligence in handling their cases. In fact, the vast majority of inmates stated that they had not seen their defenders in many months and in some cases, in years.

53. In this regard, the IACHR observes that the guarantee to a public defense, established in Article 8.2(e) of the American Convention, implies that the defense counsel should act to ensure the rights the law provides the accused, which basically amount to the possibility of seeking and providing evidence, disputing evidence connected with the case, and challenging decisions that are made. These elements of a defense, along with any others provided under domestic law, should be used properly by the defense, which should act diligently and effectively in the proceedings in order to ensure not only that the rights of the accused are respected, but also that the decisions handed down in the case are in line with the law and with justice. In addition, public defenders must preserve their independence with respect to prosecutors and the judges themselves.

54. In addition, the Office of the Rapporteur received information from various official sources regarding other serious problems in Uruguayan prisons, such as widespread drug consumption—especially in the country's main prisons, such as COMCAR, the Libertad Complex, and Cabildo, where consumption levels may be as high as 80% and 90%. According to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Prison System, the country currently has no public health programs, with the exception of some initiatives adopted only recently and still in the early stages. In addition, he indicated that some prisons reportedly have actual criminal networks or mafias devoted to drug trafficking and the extortion of prisoners, in which both inmates and agents of the State are said to participate.

55. In addition, the Rapporteur was informed, both by the Parliamentary Commissioner and by other sources, about the illegal movement and sale of the medication and food the Uruguay State provides for prisoners. Due to corruption networks, these items allegedly are not reaching those who really need them. With respect to the food provided to the inmates, the Minister of the Interior reported that there are plans to introduce catering systems provided by private companies, in order to overcome the current problems in food supply and distribution. The Office of the Rapporteur welcomes this initiative, but calls to mind that even in such a situation, the State remains responsible for oversight and control of the quality of the products provided by the catering companies, and for ensuring that all the products in fact reach the prisoners.

56. The Office of the Rapporteur is also concerned about the general lack of work and study programs for the prisoners. This situation was not only observed during the visits to the various facilities, but was corroborated by the Prison Commissioner, who indicated that the percentage of inmates who are truly able to take advantage of these programs is only around 20%. Along these lines, the Commission recognizes the progress and the initiatives undertaken in recent years by the State (for example, the development of small farms and orchards in several facilities and the Punta de Rieles project), but believes it is essential for steps to be taken so more and more prisoners can have access to these programs and reduce their sentences through work and study, as established in the law. Otherwise, a de facto situation is created in which the aims of punishments consisting of deprivation of liberty are not carried out, in accordance with the provisions of Article 5.6 of the American Convention.

57. On another matter, the IACHR takes into consideration that the Uruguayan State ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OP-CAT) on December 8, 2005, and contemplated the creation of the National Protection Mechanism (NPM) through Article 83 of Law No. 18.446 (2008). According to information provided by the Assistant Director of the Foreign Ministry's Human Rights Office, the NPM regulatory framework is in the process of being developed, and the mechanism's operations are contemplated in the government's five-year budget. The IACHR recognizes these advances and urges the State to implement and begin to operate the National Preventive Mechanism provided for under OP-CAT.

58. Finally, the Office of the Rapporteur observed that Uruguay currently has no comprehensive public policies on the operation of prisons. It therefore falls to the State, based on the provisions of Articles 1.1 and 2 of the American Convention, to adopt public policies that include both measures to be adopted immediately as well as long-term plans, programs, and projects. It is also up to the State to make its laws and criminal justice system compatible with personal liberty and the right to a fair trial established in international human rights treaties. This should be taken on as a State priority that does not depend on the greater or lesser interest of the government in power at any given time, or of public opinion makers. Rather, it should constitute a commitment that binds all branches of the government, the legislative as well as the executive branch and the judiciary, as well as civil society, for the purposed of building a system based on human dignity, one that contributes to the betterment of society and the democratic rule of law.


[1] These are: COMCAR, Libertad, La Tablada Prison Facility, Juan Soler Penitentiary (San José), Women's Prison, Prison Recovery Center No. 2, Halfway House, Penitentiary No. 8, "El Molino" Penitentiary, Punta de Rieles Penitentiary, and the National Rehabilitation Center.

[2] These are: Artigas, Canelones, Cerro Largo Colonia, Durazno, Flores, Florida, Lavalleja, Maldonado, Paysandú, Río Negro, Rivera, Rocha, Salto, Soriano, Tacuarembo Departamental, Tacuarembo P. de los Toros, Treinta y Tres, and the Montevideo Central Prison. (Although this last prison is located in the capital, it has a special status; it is not under the jurisdiction of the National Rehabilitation Institute, but rather the Montevideo Police Headquarters.)

[3] One important step in this direction, in terms of political will. is the Consensus Document promoted by the Inter-Party Commission on Public Security, which was adopted August 10, 2010, and signed by the Minister of the Interior and representatives of the Colorado, Independent, National, and Frente Amplio (Broad Front) parties.

[4] UN, Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Report of the Mission to Uruguay, A/HRC/13/39/Add.2, adopted December 21, 2009, para. 105(g).

[5] In those prisons in which medical services are not yet provided by the ASSE, this function is still being carried out by the Prison Care Service (SEASPEN), a branch of the Ministry of the Interior's National Rehabilitation Institute. In the case of prisons in the interior of the country, which are currently under the jurisdiction of the Police Headquarters, these services are being provided by doctors and nurses with police rank, who are generally also at the service of the staff. On the other hand, in the interior there is reportedly greater coordination with the services and public hospitals of the Ministry of Public Health.

[6] IACHR, Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas. Approved by the IACHR during its 131st session, held March 3-14, 2008, Principle XVII.

[7] Ibid., Principle III(4).

[8] UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Report on the Mission to Uruguay, A/HRC/13/39/Add.2, adopted on December 21, 2009, para. 105(g).

[9] IACHR, Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas, Principle XII (1).

[10] Ibid., Principle XII(2).

[11] IACHR, Report No. 86/09, Case 12.553, Merits. Jorge, José and Dante Periano Basso, Uruguay, August 6, 2009, paras. 89-90, 140-141.

[12] UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Report on the Mission to Uruguay, A/HRC/13/39/Add.2, adopted on December 21, 2009, para. 77.

[13] Ibid., paras. 79 and 80.

[14] Ibid., paras. 100 and 101.

[15] IACHR, Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas. Approved by the IACHR during its 131st session, held March 3-14, 2008, Principle XX.

Annex to No. 76/11