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Uruguay moves to overturn amnesty law, an opening for major human rights cases

April 15, 2011 |  5:43 pm


Uruguay is close to overturning a law that gave amnesty for human rights crimes committed by the military during the nation's 1973-85 dictatorship. The Senate narrowly approved the measure this week, and the lower house is expected to make only minor changes. The repeal could go into effect by May 20, the day Uruguay honors political prisoners who disappeared or were killed during the military regime's crackdown on leftists.

South American countries once saddled with right-wing military dictatorships have taken various steps to end amnesties that many enacted as the army returned to its barracks and democracy was restored; Argentina, for example, has put several former generals on trial. Uruguay was one of the last to take this step; the amnesty was criticized by Amnesty International in a 2010 report, which said the law permitted impunity. And the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled earlier this year, in a forced-disappearance case, that Uruguay should scuttle the law.

"The vote to annul Uruguay's amnesty law is a major victory for justice," Tamara Taraciuk Broner of Human Rights Watch told La Plaza. "The law has been an obstacle to prosecute police and military personnel for decades."

But Uruguay's still-powerful military and opposition political parties said the amnesty should stay in place. Top military brass held a late-night meeting with President Jose Mujica on Thursday to register complaints, the Montevideo daily La Republica reported (link in Spanish).

Overturning the military amnesty was a pet project of Mujica, whose leftist supporters demanded it. Mujica, 75, is himself a former guerrilla leader imprisoned and tortured by the military.  An amnesty for crimes committed by leftist guerrillas during the same dictatorship years remains intact.

-- Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City

Photo: Uruguayan President Jose Mujica. Credit: Associated Press