REPORT ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN URUGUAY
RIGHT TO PHYSICAL LIBERTY
American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man – Article
I. Every human being has the right to life, liberty and the security of his
XXV. No person may be deprived of his liberty except in the cases and according
to the procedures established by preexisting law.
person may be deprived of liberty for nonfulfillment of obligations of a purely
individual who has been deprived of his liberty has the right to have the
legality of his detention ascertained without delay by a court, and the right to
be tried without undue delay or, otherwise, to be released. He also has the
right to humane treatment during the time he is in custody.1
After proclamation of the “state of internal war” in Uruguay on April
15, 1972, the Commission began to receive denunciations of arbitrary detentions
by authorities of that country. These denunciations, whose number gradually
increased, came from various sources, such as relatives of those detained,
citizens residing in the country and individuals and organizations abroad.
Frequently, an individual's name appears in more than one denunciation,
which makes it difficult to determine the total number of denunciations of this
kind received to date; however, it can be stated that, according to the
denunciations, the number of individuals arbitrarily detained is in excess of
According to other communications received, the number of so-called
“political prisoners” in Uruguay would appear to vary between 3,000 and
8,000 individuals. The most recent information was provided by the Washington
Office on Latin America, a religious association in contact with Uruguayan
citizens now living abroad. According to their estimates, the total number of
individuals under detention in that country is approximately 6,000. Furthermore,
that organization estimates that between 1972 and the beginning of 1977, some
60,000 individuals had spent time in Uruguayan jails for political or
ideological reasons. For its part, the Government of Uruguay, in its
observations on the report of the Commission of May 24, 1977, acknowledge that
as of August 15, 1977, 2,366 individuals were being held under detention for
being, according to that Government, “subversive and seditious.”
With regard to the individual communications denouncing arbitrary
detentions, the Commission has duly transmitted to the Government of Uruguay the
pertinent parts of such denunciations, requesting the corresponding information,
in accordance with its Regulations.
The Government has confirmed that in a majority of the cases denounced to
the Commission, the individuals in question were or had been under detention,
but it systematically denied that they were arbitrarily deprived of their
freedom, invoking the powers of the “state of internal war” or of the
“Prompt Security Measures.”
In many cases, the replies report that the individuals named have been
released, but they do not say whether or not any charge has been brought against
them. Generally speaking, the replies contain no information as to whether the
individual under detention is being held incommunicado or is subject to some
other unjustified restriction, as the denunciations contend.
The Commission has received denunciations that state that prolonged
detention incommunicado is a common practice. By way of example, presented below
are the following paragraphs from one of these denunciations.
This took place during the week prior to May 1, as part of the
Government's effort to bar any form of public manifestation or demonstration, as
was a traditional practice every year at that time. Hundreds of actions taken
throughout the country, searches conducted in homes, union quarters, and so
forth, led to the arrest of approximately 1,500 individuals, among them a number
of labor leaders. According to the official explanation given through
“military informational communiqués,” the actions have been taken in order
to prevent a series of disruptive measures that “antinational” political and
union groups intended to carry out on the occasion of labor day. During this
“razzia” [police raid] more than 100 students were also arrested, ranging in
age from 14 to 17 years old, who despite the fact that they were minors (in
Uruguay criminal responsibility of the individual begins at 18) were held
incommunicado for a number of days and—as was denounced—allegedly were
mistreated before being released, after being held in prison incommunicado, for
an average of 15 to 30 days.
With reference to minors, Article 34 of the Uruguayan Criminal Code
provides that no one can be charged with a crime until 18 years of age.
Furthermore, the Children's code, in force since 1934, establishes that acts
committed by minors fall within the jurisdiction of legally trained and
specialized Juvenile Court Judges (Jueces Letrados de Menores), who have
exclusive authority to order their corrective internment. However, since 1975
the Commission has received denunciations of the detention of 43 minors ranging
in age from 14 to 17 years, under circumstances and in places which, according
to the claimants, are not in keeping with the norms cited above. In response to
the Commission's request for information in connection with these denunciations,
the Government reported the following:
In those cases wherein the Commission was able to conclude that the
complaint was in order, it recommended that the detainees be released or
subjected to due process of law (including a fair trial), should there be legal
grounds for such action. Under Case Nº 1842, the Commission recommended to the
Government of Uruguay that it submit the detainee, Dr. Francisco W. Pucci, to
due process of law should there be legal grounds for such action. The Government
replied that the situation of Mr. Pucci is under the jurisdiction of the Supreme
Military Tribunal, under Case Nº 165/74, (Lo. 1 Fo. 341).
It is true that democratic constitutions such as Uruguay's 1967
Constitution authorize temporary suspension of certain rights, such as the
guarantee against arbitrary arrest, for a specified period, during time of war
or other serious emergencies, to the extent that such action is strictly
necessary in light of the circumstances, for the sake of the nation's survival
or maintenance of the public order. It is also true that the conventions and
covenants on international protection of human rights provide for the same
power, under similar circumstances.2
But no domestic or international legal norm justifies, merely by invoking this
special power, the holding of detainees in prison for long and unspecified
periods, without any charges being brought against them for violation of the Law
of National Security or another criminal law, and without their being brought to
trial so that they might exercise the right to a fair trial and to due process
In cases involving other countries where the exercise of similar special
powers has been invoked in emergency situations, the Commission has repeatedly
pointed out that deprivation of freedom for prolonged periods of time, without
justification, is in violation of human rights, because it implies the
imposition of a real punishment with denial of the rights to a fair trial and to
due process, to which all individuals are entitled.
American Convention on Human Rights – Article 7.
Every person has the right to personal liberty and security.
No one shall be deprived of his physical liberty except for the
reasons and under the conditions established beforehand by the constitution
of the State Party concerned or by a law established pursuant thereto.
No one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest or imprisonment.
Anyone who is detained shall be informed of the reasons for his
detention and shall be promptly notified of the charge or charges against
Any person detained shall be brought promptly before a judge or other
officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled
to trial within a reasonable time or to be released without prejudice to the
continuation of the proceedings. His release may be subject to guarantees to
assure his appearance for trial.
Anyone who is deprived of his liberty shall be entitled to recourse
to a competent court, in order that the court may decide without delay on
the lawfulness of his arrest or detention and order his release if the
arrest or detention is unlawful. In States Parties whose laws provide that
anyone who believes himself to be threatened with deprivation of his liberty
is entitled to recourse to a competent court in order that it may decide on
the lawfulness of such threat, this remedy may not be restricted or
abolished. The interested party or another person in his behalf is entitled
to seek these remedies.
No one shall be detained for debt. This principle shall not limit the
orders of a competent judicial authority issued for nonfulfillment of duties
Article 4 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, ratified by Uruguay.