Human Rights

Americas (English Edition), January-February 2012 | Go to article overview

Human Rights


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Since its beginnings more than a half of a century ago, the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has emphasized the value of the justice system as an essential component of the Rule of Law. The Commission's decisions in cases against Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Peru, and Uruguay have made it possible to bring perpetrators to justice for their involvement in coup d'etats, murders, and the disappearances of thousands of people during authoritarian dictatorships and governments.

In 2011, another significant step was taken in this area when a law was passed in Uruguay to eliminate the statute of limitations on crimes committed during the dictatorship. By 1992, the Commission had concluded that a 1986 law permitting impunity in cases of serious human rights in Uruguay was incompatible with the American Declaration and with the American Convention on Human Rights. With the passage of the new law in October 2011, Uruguay has made significant progress in complying with the recommendations of the IACHR report and the judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Juan Gelman. Uruguay has now joined the group of countries that have chosen the path towards justice after years of impunity.

After periods of authoritarian dictatorships, Uruguay and other countries in the region (Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Peru, El Salvador, and others) passed amnesty laws that allowed the murders and torture of the past to remain in impunity. These laws limited the ability to investigate serious human rights violations committed in the past and the ability to try and sentence perpetrators or to make reparations for the harm caused to the victims. When they were not able to find justice in their own countries, the victims, their family members, and human rights organizations approached the IACHR as a final alternative.

At the rime the amnesty laws were passed, a political debate began at the national and international level about the political and legal nature of these laws. One side argued that they were necessary for achieving peace and national reconciliation and that, without them, the continuity of democratic systems and of peace itself could be endangered. Another group argued that justice was a fundamental component of the Rule of Law and the only possible basis upon which to build democracy and lasting peace.

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In this context, in 1992, the IACHR issued three reports on the merits of cases involving El Salvador, Argentina, and Uruguay. …

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