[JURIST] The Uruguayan House of Representatives [official website, in Spanish] voted 50-40 Thursday to revoke a 25-year-old amnesty law [press release, in Spanish], which prevented investigations, adjudications and human rights prosecutions of military junta officials during their regime between 1973-1985. The 1986 expiry law was passed after Uruguay returned to democratic rule, shielding police and military personnel from prosecution for torture, killings, enforced disappearances and other serious human rights violations committed during the period of authoritarian rule. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] and other opponents of the amnesty law have repeatedly called for repeal, arguing that the law violates the international human rights principles and treaties [press release] signed and ratified by Uruguay, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the American Convention of Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture. Guadalupe Marengo, AI’s Deputy Director of Americas Programme, said of the newly passed legislation:
With the approval of this new law, Uruguay’s Congress has taken an historical step forward in the fight against impunity for past crimes. … Today’s decision by Congress brings Uruguay in line with its obligations under international law and implements part of the ruling made by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). All perpetrators of past crimes against humanity should now be brought to justice.
The Amnesty Law has been ruled unconstitutional by Uruguay’s Supreme Court, but until now survived numerous challenges in Congress. The new legislation was approved [JURIST report] Tuesday by the Senate and will now go to President Jose Mujica [official website, in Spanish], himself a former left-wing militant and Tupamaro leader who was jailed during military rule, for approval. Mujica had previously argued against scrapping amnesty, pointing to referendum results, but has indicated that he will sign the new measure [BBC report] before November 1, after which the time limit for trying military-era human rights will expire.
In June Mujica announced [JURIST report] that 80 administrative acts under the amnesty law preventing investigations of crimes committed during the 1973-1985 dictatorship will be removed. This revocation only involved the executive branch’s administrative acts, leaving it for the courts to decide how to proceed. In May the House of Representative failed to repeal the amnesty law due to criticism that the law will allow the prosecution of veterans of the war but not rebel guerrillas. A month earlier, the Senate voted to overturn [JURIST reports] the law by a vote of 16-15. In March the IACHR ruled [JURIST report] that Uruguay’s government must bring to justice those responsible for the disappearance of a woman abducted by Uruguay government forces in 1976. In October of last year, the effort to overturn the law through a referendum [text, PDF, in Spanish] failed [JURIST report] when only 48 percent voted in support of such change.