Press Release

IACHR Condemns Death Threats in Uruguay

March 1, 2017

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the death threats made against authorities, justice operators, and human rights defenders in Uruguay, and urges the State to adopt urgent measures to ensure their safety.

According to publicly available information, death threats have been made against individuals who have had some role in the prosecution of criminal cases involving serious human rights violations that occurred during the Uruguayan military dictatorship (1973-1984). Those who received threats include Uruguayan Defense Minister Jorge Menéndez; Prosecutor of the Court Jorge Díaz; the Director of the National Human Rights Institute of Uruguay, Mirtha Guianze, who as a prosecutor filed an appeal challenging the amnesty law over a murder committed during the dictatorship; attorney Juan Errandonea, who represented the victim in that case; and attorney Óscar López Goldaracena, who represented the victim in a criminal case involving another political murder under the dictatorship. Others who received death threats were Federico Álvarez Petraglia, who filed complaints on behalf of 28 women for sexual abuse committed against them while they were illegally detained at an Army facility during the dictatorship; attorney Juan Fagúndez, who represented victims in a legal case brought against dozens of members of the military for torture during the dictatorship; and Hebe Martínez Burlé, who pressed charges in the case in which former Uruguayan dictator Juan María Bordaberry was sentenced to prison. Threats were also made against four people linked to the Observatorio Luz Ibarburu, which monitors criminal complaints involving human rights violations during the dictatorship: attorney Pablo Chargoñia; French judge Louis Joinet; Brazilian activist Jair Kirshke; and former Foreign Minister Belela Herrera, as well as against Italian investigator Francesca Lessa, author of the book ¿Justicia o impunidad? Cuentas pendientes del Uruguay post-dictadura [“Justice or Impunity? Unfinished Business in Post-Dictatorship Uruguay”].

According to the information available, the death threats were sent by e-mail and state that “the suicide of General Pedro Barneix will not remain unpunished.” General Pedro Barneix, who was the head of Military Intelligence and was appointed by President Tabaré Vásquez to lead a group to investigate the fate of people who were detained and disappeared during the dictatorship, committed suicide on September 2, 2015. On that date, the police had showed up at his home to take him to jail to face charges for the political murder of Aldo Perrini in 1974. Prosecutor of the Court Jorge Díaz, one of the people who received two e-mail threats, said that the message states: “No more suicides or unjust prosecutions will be accepted. From now on, for every suicide we will kill three people selected at random from the following list.” The messages were sent by e-mail, using a technological platform that makes them difficult to trace as they go through several servers located in different countries.

In its report “Guarantees for the Independence of Justice Operators,” the IACHR said that threats and attacks against judges, prosecutors, and public defenders are generally intended to instill fear and bring pressure to bear to undermine their impartiality and independence. These threats and attacks tend to increase when the justice operators are prosecuting cases of great national importance involving serious human rights violations. These threats are a particularly serious matter, not just because they are made against the individual but also because such acts can have the effect of intimidating and instilling fear in the victim of the act of aggression and in other justice operators. This intimidating effect can increase the risk that cases involving human rights violations could go unpunished and, in general, that citizens’ confidence in the institutions of the State charged with administering and delivering justice could be undermined.

In this regard, the IACHR condemns the attacks on justice operators in Uruguay and urges the State to adopt urgent measures to protect justice operators. The IACHR takes note that judicial investigations have been initiated with regard to these threats, and hopes that it will be established who is responsible for carrying out and masterminding these acts and that those responsible will be effectively punished. If the State fails to guarantee the safety of its justice operators from every type of external pressure, including these death threats, exercise of the judicial function may be gravely affected and access to justice thwarted for victims of human rights violations perpetrated during the dictatorship.

“It is important that investigations have begun promptly,” said the IACHR Rapporteur for Uruguay, Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren. “It is equally important that the investigations are conducted with all due diligence until those responsible are punished. Judicial cases in general, and specifically these prosecutions for serious crimes committed during the dictatorship, should move forward without judges, prosecutors, defenders, and other justice operators feeling intimidated or frightened, in order to ensure access to justice for the victims,” he added.

For his part, the IACHR Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Commissioner José de Jesús Orozco, underscored the importance of the work of judges, prosecutors, and defenders who have continued with determination to seek justice despite all the obstacles, including the existence of a 1986 amnesty law, called the Ley de Caducidad de la Pretensión Punitiva del Estado [Law on the Expiration of the Punitive Claims of the State]. “Those who received the death threats have played a very significant role in moving these types of cases forward and in moving toward justice. The State has the obligation to ensure their safety so that they can continue to do their work independently and without risks to their life or integrity,” the Rapporteur said.

A principal, autonomous body of the 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 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. 021/17