Saturday, 28 March 2009

Uruguay: Good and Bad News

In Uruguay, six former military officials and two former police officers have been sentenced to between 20 and 25 years in jail for murders committed during the 1973-1985 dictatorship. The perpetrators are: from the armed forces Gilberto Vázquez, José Ricardo Arab, Ernesto Ramas, José Gavazzo, Luis Maurente and Jorge Silveira and from the police José Sande Lima y Ricardo Medina.

The victims included Adalberto Soba and Alberto Mechoso, who were arrested and abducted in Argentina and tortured in the Automotores Orletti detention centre before being secretly transferred to their native Uruguay. This is an example of the collaboration between the security forces in the various countries under military dictatorships in South America (see Operation Condor).

Uruguay: condenan a prision a ex militares y ex policias (AP)

Thanks to my reader, whose blog I wish I could read more of, for the tip

So much for the good news. At the same time, however, a UN rights expert has condemned "large-scale human rights violations" in Uruguayan jails.

“I received few allegations of torture in police stations that could be proven beyond reasonable doubt by forensic examinations and other means of evidence,” Manfred Nowak, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said [...] “However, I did receive numerous credible allegations of ill-treatment and excessive use of force in prisons, police stations and juvenile detention centres,” [...]

He said he found Libertad Penitentiary particularly appalling, with convicted prisoners and pre-trial detainees held together “like animals in metal boxes” for almost 24 hours a day, often drinking from toilets because of restricted access to water.

Now, do I link these two stories because I feel sorry for the military murderers who now need to belatedly pay for their crimes? Hardly. I link them only because they illustrate the difficulty of breaking away from authoritarian institutions under democracy. Uruguay is no longer a military dictatorship; it is unacceptable that it continues to commit widespread abuses in its prison system. The moral victory under democracy lies not only in successfully prosecuting human rights violators (who, yes, get to enjoy fair trials and freedom from extrajudicial executions and all sorts of other things which they did not grant their prisoners when they were in power) but also in reshaping state institutions so that they are fit for a democratic society. Clearly, that is a huge and expensive challenge, and it's not just Uruguay that has a long way to go.

UN rights expert urges Uruguay to end 'appalling' prison conditions (UN news centre)

1 comment:

Benjamin N. Gedan said...

I'm surprised and concerned to hear about human rights abuses in Uruguayan police stations.

A recent film about Operation Condor, "Matar a Todos," focused on antidemocratic behavior by Uruguayan police after the restoration of democracy. But I had hoped that Uruguay's current government, which includes former prisoners of the military dictatorship, would safeguard the rights of all citizens, particularly those in state custody.