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Uruguay high court declares dictatorship trials unconstitutional

The Uruguay Supreme Court ruled on Friday that a 2011 law allowing for investigations into crimes committed during the country's 1973-1985 dictatorship is unconstitutional. Uruguay's legislature passed the law in 2011, allowing the government to investigate human rights violations that occurred during the 12-year dictatorship [Library of Congress backgrounder] and not subjecting these violations to a statute of limitations. The court struck down [Reuters report] the law because it found that two of the articles were unconstitutional, effectively restoring the nation's 1986 Expiry Law [text, in Spanish], which granted amnesty to military officials accused of human rights violations during the dictatorship era. The Expiry Law places in doubt 20 murder cases that have been brought against Uruguay's former dictator, Juan Maria Bordaberry [JURIST news archive].

Laws concerning Uruguay's dictatorship era have been the subject of judicial controversy in recent years. In 2011, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) [official website, in Spanish] condemned the Uruguayan government for its role in the abduction and death of an Argentinean woman in the 1970s, effectively overturning the country's amnesty law [JURIST report]. In 2010, the Uruguayan Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that amnesty granted for crimes committed by the country's 12-year dictatorship was unconstitutional. Months earlier, Bordaberry was sentenced to 30 years in prison [JURIST report] for his role in the country's 1973 military coup. Bordaberry was arrested in 2006 on charges of murder and was later charged with violating Uruguay's constitution [materials, in Spanish]. The Uruguay Supreme Court also addressed the Expiry Law in a 2009 ruling, finding it unconstitutional [JURIST report] as it applied to the case of Nibia Sabalsagaray, who was allegedly murdered by the military in 1974. The court concluded that the law violated separation of powers and constitutional sovereignty [El Pais report, in Spanish].

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