REPORT ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN URUGUAY
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.
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
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
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
This conversation was recounted in an “Aide Memoire” prepared by the
Secretariat of the Commission and subsequently brought to Mr. Araneo's
On April 15, 1977, Mr. Araneo, Acting Representative of Uruguay to the
OAS, sent to the Acting Executive Secretary of the IACHR the following
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
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:
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
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.
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
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
ACCEPT EXCELLENCY THE RENEWED ASSURANCES OF MY HIGHEST CONSIDERATION.
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.
OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
THE EASTERN REPUBLIC
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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:
Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds,
mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
Taking of hostages;
Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and
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.