Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Uruguay's Amnesty for Dictatorship Struck Down

Most of the Southern Cone (Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay) countries, and even Brazil, have dealt with amnesties that forgave the culprits guilty of state-sponsored murder in one way or another. Chile managed to assure that Pinochet would never see an end to legal processes before he died; Argentina has begun prosecuting torturers and murderers from its "Dirty War," and has arrested leaders like Jorge Videla; Paraguay has literally begun digging up its past, and has some of the most extensive open archives on collaboration between right-wing dictatorships in South America; even Brazil has opened some secret archives, and while failing to ever go after torturers or the presidents, has stripped doctors who oversaw torture of their medical licenses.

The one conspicuous absence here is Uruguay, which still had in place a special amnesty for anybody who'd committed crimes during the dictatorship. Until today, when a court threw out the amnesty:

The Supreme Court ruling only applies to the investigation into the 1974 death in a military barrack of a young Communist teacher Nibia Sabasagaray, allegedly as a consequence of tortures and other abuses suffered while under arrest.
While that doesn't sound very hopeful save for the one case it deals with, the legal ruling for this case is based on the fact that the amnesty was not approved with a special majority vote, a requirement for this type of law in Uruguay, as well as the fact it violates the autonomy of the branches of government. As a result, while the court's ruling deals only with one case, its legal basis renders the entire amnesty illegal, opening the removal of amnesty to additional cases. On top of this, in the presidential elections this Sunday, Uruguayans also have a chance to vote on a referendum that would annul the amnesty law that Congress approved in 1986 (and that a referendum in 1989 confirmed).

In short, the one remaining amnesty law in the Southern Cone that had been relatively untouched and unchallenged is suddenly facing assaults from all sides, and this is nothing but good news for those interested in seeking justice for the crimes of Uruguay's military governments between 1974 and 1985.