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Transitional justice: “A chapter of Uruguay’s recent past is yet to be resolved adequately”

MONTEVIDEO / GENEVA (10 October 2013) – The United Nations Independent Expert on transitional justice, Pablo de Greiff, called upon Uruguay to resolve the pending chapter of the serious human rights violations that occurred during the civil-military dictatorship and the immediately preceding period.

“It is not about revenge or looking only to the past, but about laying a solid foundation for a just and equitable society that will allow new generations to address the challenges of the future,” said* the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition, after his first official visit to Uruguay.

“Since the end of the dictatorship, in spite of the fact that the efforts of civil society organizations have not rest, there has been little progress – and not constant in any case– in each of the four areas covered by my mandate, that is: truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition,” he said.

The human rights expert noted that there have been some developments in the field of truth, particularly with regard to victims of disappearances, beginning with the establishment of the Commission for Peace in 2000.

However, “besides the fact that most cases of enforced disappearance have not been solved at all,” Mr. de Greiff stressed, “the fundamental challenge in the area of truth has to do with the focus of the efforts in itself.”

In his opinion, the situation of the victims of detention, which in many cases was prolonged, as well as of systematic torture, has received less attention, although Uruguay had the highest number of detainees per capita of the region.

“The country should not turn its back on the clearest manifestation of the modus operandi of social control exercised by the dictatorship, which was not predominantly enforced disappearances or arbitrary executions but detention and torture,” he stated.

“The society deserves the benefits that may result from the clarification of the facts in terms of strengthening and reform of institutions,” Mr. de Greiff said, underlining that this is a task that should not be delayed, given the victims’ advanced age.

“There is no doubt that the testimonies of these victims have to be collected, that information about all the dimensions that led to the immense accumulation of violations must be compiled, systematized and disseminated,” explained the expert. “Victims are entitled to it, and the society deserves it too.”

The Special Rapporteur pointed out that ​​justice is the area on which most of the attention has been focused in Uruguay, where much of the efforts of the victims, their associations and their representatives revolve around lawsuits.

“For the time being,” he stressed, “nothing seems to threaten the possibilities for progress in the area of justice more than the recent decisions of the Supreme Court of Justice.” In his opinion, it is likely that the highest court of Uruguay will join again the position of many courts in various parts of the world that have taken into consideration both the guarantees always due to the accused and the rights of the victims.

Mr. de Greiff also drew attention to the need to resolve the slowness of judicial process in Uruguay, its weak investigative capacities, and the almost inexistent participation of victims.

“Reparation laws suffer from a clear confusion between the rights pertaining to the victims as victims of human rights violations and employment rights, including pension rights, forcing them to choose between reparation and pension benefits,” he highlighted.

The expert called for the review of existing laws to increase the coverage of programs and eliminate the confusion between the right to reparation, on the one hand, and rights of another nature. He also called for the elimination of qualifying procedures which risk re-victimizing some of the beneficiaries, including men and women victims of sexual abuse.

“I call for instances such as the National Institution of Human Rights and Office of the Ombudsman or the newly created Special team to support justice for crimes of State terrorism, among others, to be given both the human and material resources necessary for them to make a significant contribution,” said the Special Rapporteur.

During his official visit to Uruguay, Mr. de Greiff had meetings with a wide range of stakeholders, including representatives of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, as well as civil society representatives, associations of victims and academics in Montevideo.

The Special Rapporteur will submit a final report on the visit to the UN Human Rights Council in 2014.

Pablo de Greiff was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the first Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence in 2012. A human rights expert from Colombia, Pablo de Greiff has extensive professional and academic expertise on transitional justice issues. He has been the Director of Research at the International Center for Transitional Justice since 2001. As a Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. For further information, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/TruthJusticeReparation/Pages/Index.aspx

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement (in Spanish): http://www.ohchr.org/SP/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13849&LangID=S

UN Human Rights – Uruguay: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LACRegion/Pages/UYIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Amanda Flores (+ 41 22 917 9186 / aflores@ohchr.org) or write to srtruth@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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