Uruguay's Supreme Court Overturns Law Allowing Prosecution of Human Rights Violators

By Gaudin, Andres | NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, March 22, 2013 | Go to article overview

Uruguay's Supreme Court Overturns Law Allowing Prosecution of Human Rights Violators


Gaudin, Andres, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs


In just eight days, between Feb. 14 and 22, Uruguay's Suprema Corte de Justicia (SCJ) steamrolled over human rights, destroying what little had been accomplished in 28 years of democracy to judge crimes against humanity committed by state terrorism during the worst civilian-military dictatorship (1973-1985) in the country's history.

First, the SCJ demoted without cause Judge Mariana Mota, who specialized in human rights, transferring her from criminal court to civil court. It then ruled unconstitutional Ley 18.831, according to which no statute of limitations could be applied to crimes committed during the dictatorship.

Mota was investigating and in many cases was ready to hand down sentences in cases involving more than 50 kidnappers, torturers, persons responsible for forced disappearances, and those who took babies born to prisoners from their mother's womb and then killed the mothers.

In a country in which only 11 military and two civilians have been sentenced, Mota was the one who had the courage to sentence former dictator Juan Maria Bordaberry and his foreign minister Juan Carlos Blanco to 45 years in prison (NotiSur, March 19. 2010).

Ley 18.831 corrected the legal aberrations of the amnesty law--Ley de Caducidad de la Pretension Punitiva del Estado (law on the expiry of the punitive claims of the state)--which was severely challenged by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) and other ecumenical bodies (NotiSur, April 15. 2011).

Judge Jorge Ruibal Pino, president of the SCJ since Feb. 1, said that Mota's demotion was motivated by "technical reasons," an explanation repudiated by a group of 23 political and social human rights organizations. His colleague Justice Jorge Chediak committed the crime/sin of lying by saying that Mota was demoted because she was the subject of several investigations. Those allegations were disproved within hours.

Supreme Court shuns IACHR

In declaring Ley 18.831 unconstitutional, the SCJ ignored an IACHR decision, the unanimous opinion of multinational nongovernmental human rights organizations, and international conventions signed by Uruguay. Voting with the majority were Judges Ruibal Pino, Chediak, Julio Cesar Chalar, and Jorge Larrieux.

Both decisions were praised by conservative political parties and media as well as the three rightist post-dictatorship former presidents--Julio Maria Sanguinetti (1985-1990, 1995-2000), Luis Alberto Lacalle (1990-1995), and Jorge Batlle (2000-2005). They were also praised by the social clubs of retired military and police, those who murdered, tortured, and disappeared persons in those bloody years.

The SCJ knew--as noted expressly by Judge Ricardo Perez Manrique, the only SCJ member who voted against the measures--that it would expose the Uruguayan state to new IACHR sanctions and harsh challenges from the most representative international human rights organizations.

"The SCJ is determined to turn its back on everything that comes from society, dealing with the simple question of why it makes decisions that are at odds with universal jurisprudence. With the air of one offended, and with the support of a certain political and media entourage, it rejects the citizen protest that asks for explanations and does so as if it holds some type of absolute power. That was long part of the country's colonial history, not that of the country that chose to put sovereignty in the good hands of the people," wrote analyst Walter Pernas in the magazine Brecha. That was his way of expressing his indignation after the SCJ called on the police to repress a few thousand demonstrators who had gathered near its headquarters to show their repudiation of Judge Mota's demotion.

Some might think that, of all the structures that might expose it to shame, the SCJ would be interested only in what the IACHR and other international organizations such as the UN would say.

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Uruguay's Supreme Court Overturns Law Allowing Prosecution of Human Rights Violators
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