Human Rights in Uruguay: Democracy, Decency and Impunity

Uruguay is often lauded for its commitment to democracy and its relatively strong record of respect, protection, and fulfillment of the full range of civil, political, social, economic, and cultural human rights. Indeed, its positive reputation is generally well deserved. However, Uki Goni's recent commentary in the International New York Times on Uruguay fails to mention one of its greatest moral, political, and legal failures which undermines his idealized account of Uruguayan democracy and progressive politics.

While he rightly acknowledges Uruguay's legacy of racism and slavery, and the continued manifestations of racism in Uruguay today, he leaves out one of the most violent and brutal periods of Uruguay's history.

Uruguay's military dictatorship (1973-1985) was vicious and ruthless and Uruguay has failed to hold its perpetrators to account. Torture was widespread and Uruguay had the highest percentage of political prisoners of the Latin American dictatorships.

It is impossible to do justice to Uruguay's history without acknowledging this period. It had a devastating impact on the country. The failure to hold the military dictators and their accomplices accountable in Uruguay's courts continues to undermine Uruguay's commitment to ending impunity, respecting human rights, and upholding the rule of law. Such impunity causes particularly acute suffering to the survivors of these human rights violations and to family members of those who were murdered, tortured, and 'disappeared' by the military dictatorship.

Uruguayan democracy will be incomplete and at odds with fundamental and non-derogable international human rights law until Uruguay confronts its past honestly, openly, and without repression and finally brings to justice those who destroyed Uruguay's democracy until civilian control was finally restored to the government.