IACHR

Press Release

IACHR Completes Visit to Uruguay

May 31, 2019

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María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Office
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Washington, D.C./Montevideo – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) conducted a working visit to Uruguay on May 27-29, 2019. The aim of the visit was to obtain information about the situation of human rights in the country, particularly concerning memory, truth and justice, persons deprived of their liberty, and children and adolescents, as well as the rights of women and LGBTI persons. The delegation included Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño (the IACHR’s President and Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child), Commissioner Antonia Urrejola Noguera (country Rapporteur for Uruguay) and experts from the IACHR’s Executive Secretariat.

The Commission acknowledges Uruguay’s important leadership in efforts to consolidate the independence and autonomy of the Inter-American Human Rights System. It further thanks the State of Uruguay for all the assistance it provided as the Commission planned and conducted this visit, and for the openness and support of all its authorities—even at the highest level—to address issues of interest to the IACHR. The Commission also appreciates the efforts that civil society organizations, journalists, human rights defenders and victims of human rights violations and their families made to provide the delegation with information and testimony.

In the context of this visit, the Inter-American Commission held working meetings with various State institutions. It met, among others, with authorities of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, with representatives of civil society organizations, with Uruguayan academics and with victims of human rights violations.

During the visit, the IACHR took part in a seminar that the Uruguayan State held in compliance with the friendly settlement it signed in the case of David Rabinovich (Petition 1224-07). The aim of the seminar was to disseminate the facts of that case and to promote the friendly settlement mechanism and inter-American standards on freedom of expression and access to public information as a tool for non-repetition. Several actors involved in protecting the right to freedom of expression and access to information took part in the event. The Commission values the parties’ good disposition to reach a friendly settlement in such a landmark case.

As the IACHR said in its 2018 Annual Report, Uruguay remains one of the most solid countries in the region in terms of its human rights institutions. In that context, the Commission commends the State for progress made through the creation of the National Institution for Human Rights and Ombudsperson’s Office (INDDHH, by its Spanish acronym), the Truth and Justice Commission, the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Humanity, and various remembrance spaces. The Commission also values the adoption of legislation for the protection and recognition of the rights of older adults and LGBTI persons.

The IACHR further notes public policies implemented by the State to fight the recent increase in violence and ill-treatment against children and adolescents. The Commission was informed of the adoption of a protocol to deal with cases of sexual violence against children and adolescents, and also of legislative changes made to prevent a revictimization of such children and adolescents in legal proceedings. The IACHR was also told of State initiatives aimed at empowering girls based on a gender perspective for the prevention of violence. The IACHR further values State efforts to encourage the participation of children and adolescents, in compliance with international standards on the rights of the child to be heard and to have their views duly considered in any decisions that affect them. “State efforts to provide the necessary institutions to build a system that grants comprehensive protection to the rights of children and adolescents are valuable. However, it is important for the system to have a governing body at the highest possible level and for all system components to properly articulate their actions,” said IACHR President and Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child, Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño.

The IACHR delegation visited a center for the application of socio-educational measures for adolescents who are deprived of their liberty. The delegation found that the facility’s infrastructure remains jail-like and lacks appropriate conditions to hold adolescents. The Commission is pleased with State intentions to replace current units with new ones that are structurally appropriate, and also to adopt a 2020-2025 Road Map that prioritizes compliance with the recommendations of monitoring institutions, as well as with State efforts to ensure that the system is suitable to implement socio-educational measures in accordance with the applicable international standards.

The Commission highlights progress made concerning the rights of persons deprived of their liberty, especially concerning pretrial detention. However, the IACHR urges the State to continue to reduce the number of affected persons, and notes that pretrial detention must be exceptional. The IACHR was also informed of the need to improve conditions of detention in prisons and to adopt a comprehensive policy for the provision of alternative measures. The Commission calls on the State to seek further progress concerning the rights of persons deprived of their liberty, to protect the rights of those people in accordance with the applicable international standards.

The Commission notes and commends the State’s major efforts to investigate cases of gender-based violence in Uruguay and to punish their perpetrators. In that context, the IACHR notes that the first conviction that applied “femicide” as an aggravating circumstance was issued in 2018, in the case involving the murder of 9-year-old Valentina Walter. The court’s decision considered hatred, scorn or contempt based on the fact that the girl was a woman as the motive of the crime. However, the Commission stresses alarming reports that domestic violence is the second most common crime in the country, after theft. The IACHR urges the State to keep working to eradicate gender-based violence by investing in appropriate resources to strengthen support services for cases of such violence, and to take preventive measures and ensure the provision of education with a gender perspective.

Concerning the rights of LGBTI persons, the IACHR highlights major progress made in recognition of gender identity and gender expression in Uruguay through the enactment of the Comprehensive Act for Trans Persons. That act enforced the right to gender identity based on inter-American standards, and ensured the creation of a category for gender identity in the country’s national census and the provision of reparations for victims of State persecution based on gender identity during the 1973-1985 dictatorship. However, the Commission was informed of the worrying approval by the Election Court of a pre-referendum on whether to revoke that act. The Commission acknowledges that referendums and plebiscites are very valuable for democracy. However, it stresses that gender identity is an essential element of a person’s human right to juridical personality and to an identity. The IACHR is concerned about the possibility that a human right may be subjected to popular consultation.

Concerning memory, truth and justice, the IACHR observes with the utmost concern that, despite the State’s efforts, some statutory interpretations persist in criminal law proceedings that insist on applying a statute of limitations to serious human rights violations committed during the civic-military dictatorship. Such interpretations let the perpetrators of crimes against humanity go unpunished and deny justice and reparation to their victims. The Commission reminds the State of its obligation to reasonably comply with the Inter-American Court’s decision in the case Gelman vs. Uruguay. In that decision, the Court established that “amnesty provisions, the statute of limitation provisions, and the establishment of exclusions of responsibility that are intended to prevent the investigation and punish those responsible for serious violations to human rights such as torture, summary, extrajudicial, or arbitrary executions, and enforced disappearance are not admissible, all of which are prohibited for contravening irrevocable rights recognized by International Law of Human Rights.” The Commission therefore calls on the State—and particularly on its judiciary branch—to comply with its duty to enforce conventionality control, in the context of its obligation to respect and protect the human rights addressed in the American Convention and in the decisions of the Inter-American Court. The Commission stresses that the State still owes compensation, in terms of truth and justice, to all victims of human rights violations. “During the visit, it was particularly painful to hear the testimony of women who were victims of sexual violence over that period,” said Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, IACHR Rapporteur for Uruguay, who is in charge of the Commission’s Unit on Memory, Truth and Justice.

Concerning the reparations provided for by the Act for victims of unlawful State action, the IACHR stresses that, in accordance with inter-American standards, those reparations are based on the fact that beneficiaries are victims of serious human rights violations that the State is accountable for. These reparations are not incompatible with and should not replace victims’ own income or any subsidies or pensions they receive from the social security system. The State must therefore take any measures necessary to adjust domestic legislation to adequately enforce this aspect of victim reparations.

The Commission further notes and appreciates the information provided by the State on progress made in investigations to identify and publish the people responsible for the threats issued by the group that calls itself “Comando Barneix” against authorities, justice operators and human rights defenders active in connection with court cases involving human rights violations perpetrated during the Uruguayan dictatorship. The IACHR urges the State to continue to make every effort to establish who is responsible for those threats and to punish them. The Commission commends human rights defenders for their admirable work to enforce human rights in the region and stresses that cases involving such threats need to be solved.

The Commission thanks State authorities, civil society organizations, international organizations and the Uruguayan people for their cooperation with this visit. The inputs that have been received will be important to strengthen IACHR work, not only in Uruguay but all over the region. This working visit also enjoyed valuable support from the Canadian government, in the context of the project Fighting Discrimination and Violence against Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean. The IACHR will continue to monitor the Uruguayan State’s efforts to comply with its international obligations concerning human rights.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 135/19