Press Release

IACHR Notes Uruguay Court Decision Limiting the Application of Statute of Limitations to Crime Committed during the Dictatorship

June 24, 2019

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) notes the decision made by Uruguay’s Supreme Court of Justice that limits the application of a statute of limitations to a criminal action, in the context of a homicide committed during the country’s civic-military dictatorship (1973–85). The IACHR takes this decision as progress in this particular case.

According to publicly available reports, the Supreme Court of Justice unanimously dismissed on May 30, 2019 the appeal filed by the defense in the case concerning the “very seriously aggravated homicide” of victim Gerardo Alter. In the reasons it cited for this decision, the Court mentioned that “the period of the de facto regime cannot be counted to calculate the statute of limitations for this criminal action, since the victim was prevented from seeking the relevant investigations during that time.” The Court further noted that the statute of limitations cannot count the period when the Law on the Expiry of the Punitive Claims of the State was in force.

The Commission has repeatedly said that amnesty and statute of limitations dispositions and exemptions from responsibility that seek to preclude investigation and punishment for anyone responsible for serious human rights violations are inadmissible. The IACHR expressed—in a press release dated May 31, 2019—its concern about the persistence in criminal law proceedings of some statutory interpretations that insist on applying a statute of limitations to serious human rights violations committed during the Uruguayan dictatorship.

While this decision is one step closer to investigation of events in that case, it is crucial for judicial authorities to state—in compliance with inter-American standards—that no statute of limitations can be applied to serious human rights violations committed during the civic-military dictatorship. In this case, the decision made by the Supreme Court of Justice focused on how to count time to apply a statute of limitations. The IACHR stresses the obligation of the Uruguayan State—established by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the Gelman Case—to refrain from applying “a statute of limitations, non-retroactivity of the criminal law, res judicata, ne bis in idem or any other similar law exonerating responsibility.”

“The State has a duty to solve serious past violations and to punish anyone responsible for them, which implies eliminating hurdles in legal proceedings for such cases,” said Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, IACHR Rapporteur for Uruguay, who also leads the Commission’s Unit on Memory, Truth, and Justice. “Ending impunity is essential to eradicate crimes as serious as extrajudicial executions, torture and forced disappearances,” Commissioner Urrejola stressed.

“All State organs must work to ensure compliance with the dispositions of the American Convention on Human Rights,” said IACHR President Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño. “The Judiciary is responsible for guaranteeing access to justice for serious human rights violations committed during the civic-military dictatorship,” said Commissioner Arosemena de Troitiño.

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. 158/19