International Criminology World

World : South America : Uruguay

The only inhabitants of Uruguay before European colonization of the area were the Charrua Indians, a small tribe driven south by the Guarani Indians of Paraguay. The Spanish discovered the territory of present-day Uruguay in 1516, but the Indians' fierce resistance to conquest, combined with the absence of gold and silver, limited settlement in the region during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Spanish introduced cattle, which became a source of wealth in the region. Spanish colonization increased as Spain sought to limit Portugal's expansion of Brazil's frontiers.

Montevideo was founded by the Spanish in the early 18th century as a military stronghold; its natural harbor soon developed into a commercial center competing with Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires. Uruguay's early 19th century history was shaped by ongoing fights between the British, Spanish, Portuguese, and colonial forces for dominance in the Argentina-Brazil-Uruguay region. In 1811, Jose Gervasio Artigas, who became the Uruguay´s hero, launched a successful revolt against Spain. In 1821, the Provincia Oriental del Rio de la Plata, present-day Uruguay, was annexed to Brazil by Portugal. The Provincia declared independence from Brazil in August 25, 1825 (after numerous revolts in 1821, 1823, and 1825) but decided to adhere to a regional federation with Argentina.

The regional federation defeated Brazil after 3-year fight. The 1828 Treaty of Montevideo, fostered by the United Kingdom, gave birth to Uruguay as an independent state. The nation's first constitution was adopted in 1830. The remainder of the 19th century under a series of elected and appointed presidents saw interventions by--and conflicts with--neighboring states, political and economic fluctuations, and large inflows of immigrants, mostly from Europe. Jose Batlle y Ordoñez, president from 1903 to 1907 and again from 1911 to 1915, set the pattern for Uruguay's modern political development. He established widespread political, social, and economic reforms such as a welfare program, government participation in many facets of the economy, and a plural executive. Some of these reforms were continued by his successors.

By 1966, economic, political, and social difficulties led to constitutional amendments, and a new constitution was adopted in 1967. In 1973, amid increasing economic and political turmoil, the armed forces closed the Congress and established a civilian-military regime. A new constitution drafted by the military was rejected in a November 1980 plebiscite. Following the plebiscite, the armed forces announced a plan for return to civilian rule. National elections were held in 1984; Colorado Party leader Julio Maria Sanguinetti won the presidency and served from 1985 to 1990. The first Sanguinetti administration implemented economic reforms and consolidated democratization following the country's years under military rule.

Sanguinetti's economic reforms, focusing on the attraction of foreign trade and capital, achieved some success and stabilized the economy. In order to promote national reconciliation and facilitate the return of democratic civilian rule, Sanguinetti secured public approval by plebiscite of a controversial general amnesty for military leaders accused of committing human rights violations under the military regime and sped the release of former guerrillas.

The National Party's Luis Alberto Lacalle won the 1989 presidential election and served from 1990 to 1995. President Lacalle executed major economic structural reforms and pursued further liberalization of trade regimes, including Uruguay's inclusion in the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR) in 1991. Despite economic growth during Lacalle's term, adjustment and privatization efforts provoked political opposition, and some reforms were overturned by referendum.

In the 1994 elections, former President Sanguinetti won a new term, which ran from 1995 until March 2000. As no single party had a majority in the General Assembly, the National Party joined with Sanguinetti's Colorado Party in a coalition government. The Sanguinetti government continued Uruguay's economic reforms and integration into MERCOSUR. Other important reforms were aimed at improving the electoral system, social security, education, and public safety. The economy grew steadily for most of Sanguinetti's term until low commodity prices and economic difficulties in its main export markets caused a recession in 1999, which has continued into 2002.

The 1999 national elections were held under a new electoral system established by a 1996 constitutional amendment. Primaries in April decided single presidential candidates for each party, and national elections on October 31 determined representation in the legislature. As no presidential candidate received a majority in the October election, a runoff was held in November. In the runoff, Colorado Party candidate Jorge Batlle, aided by the support of the National Party, defeated Broad Front candidate Tabare Vazquez.

Batlle's 5-year term began on March 1, 2000. The Colorado and National Parties continued their legislative coalition, as neither party by itself won as many seats as the 40% of each house won by the Broad Front coalition.

President Batlle's priorities have included promoting economic growth, increasing international trade, attracting foreign investment, reducing the size of government, and resolving issues related to Uruguayans who disappeared during the military government. His coalition government also has passed legislation authorizing the initial demonopolization of the state-owned telephone and gas distribution companies, moves which have been characterized by the left as "selling the state's heritage." These laws have been the targets of calls for referenda to block their implementation, in a populist tool used increasingly by the Frente Amplio to halt action by the government on various issues.

Batlle's term has been marked by economic recession and uncertainty, first with the 1999 devaluation of the Brazilian real, then with the outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease (aftosa) in Uruguay's key beef sector in 2001, and finally with the political and economic collapse of Argentina in late 2001.

Today, the Oriental Republic of Uruguay is a constitutional republic with an elected president and a bicameral legislature. In 1999 in free and fair elections voters elected Senator Jorge Batlle of the Colorado party as President; he assumed office on March 1, 2000, for a 5-year term. In legislative elections in 1999 the left-of-center Broad Front coalition won approximately 40 percent of the vote in a four-party race, thus constituting the largest congressional bloc. The two traditional parties, the Colorados and the Blancos, which collaborate in a coalition-style arrangement, together control over half of the seats in the legislature. The judiciary is generally independent.



The country's population is estimated at 3.2 million. The economy is a mixture of private and state enterprises and is heavily dependent on agricultural exports and agroindustry. The leading exports are meat, leather, and rice. The unemployment rate was estimated at 16 percent in July. The economy contracted by 1.3 percent during the year 2001, following a decline of 2.8 percent in 2000. Annual per capita income was about $6,000 in 2000.



Roman Catholicism was the dominant religion in Uruguay, but Uruguay had long been a secular society. In 1981 the nation was divided into 221 parishes and had 204 diocesan priests. In addition, there were 374 monks and 1,580 nuns. About threequarters of all babies were baptized in the church. In the 1963 census, 62 percent of Uruguayans had declared themselves Catholics. However, according to data compiled by the Uruguayan Bishops Conference in 1978, only 105,248 citizens regularly attended mass. This figure represented less than 4 percent of the population. Attendance at mass was, however, slightly higher in the interior of the country and substantially higher among women. There was also evidence that religious observance was higher among the upper classes than among the middle and lower strata of society. In the late 1980s, an estimated 66 percent of Uruguayans were professed Roman Catholics, but less than half of the adult population attended church regularly.

Uruguay's secularization began with the relatively minor role of the church in the colonial era, compared with other parts of the Spanish Empire. The small numbers of Uruguay's Indians, and their fierce resistance to proselytization, reduced the influence of the ecclesiastical authorities. After independence, anticlerical ideas spread to Uruguay, particularly from France, further eroding the influence of the church. In 1837 civil marriage was recognized, and in 1861 the state took over public cemeteries. In 1907 divorce was legalized, and in 1909 all religious instruction was banned from state schools. Under the influence of the radical Colorado reformer José Batlle y Ordóñez (1903-07, 1911-15), complete separation of church and state was introduced with the new constitution of 1917. Batlle y Ordóñez went as far as to have religious holidays legally renamed. Even as of 1990, Uruguayans referred to Holy Week as "Tourism Week."

Nevertheless, the separation of church and state ended religious conflict in Uruguay, and since that time Catholic schools have been allowed to flourish. A Catholic party, the Civic Union of Uruguay (Unión Cívica del Uruguay--UCU), was founded in 1912 but never won more than a low percentage of the national vote. By the 1960s, the progressive trend in the worldwide church was strongly felt in Uruguay under the influence of Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI. Particularly influential was the 1968 Latin American Bishops Conference in Medellín, Colombia, at which the concept of "structural sin" was put forward. By this doctrine, evil was seen as existing not only in the actions of individuals but also in the unequal organization of entire societies. The second Latin American Bishops Conference, held in Mexico in 1979, also had an important dynamizing and radicalizing impact in Uruguay. This time, the bishops called for a "preferential option for the poor." Sections of the Uruguayan church in fact became quite radical: when members of the National Liberation Movement-Tupamaros (Movimiento de Liberación NacionalTupamaros --MLN-T) were given amnesty in 1985, for a time they were housed in a Montevideo monastery while they readjusted to normal life.

One symptom of the growing progressive trend in the Uruguayan Catholic movement was the decision of the UCU to adopt the name Christian Democratic Party (Partido Demócrata Cristiano--PDC) in 1962. The new-found social conscience was strongly influenced by French Catholic philosophers--first Jacques Maritain and later Father Lebret. During the 1960s, the PDC moved further and further left, eventually espousing a form of "communitarian socialism" under its brilliant young leader, Juan Pablo Terra. In 1971 the PDC allied with the Communist Party of Uruguay and the Socialist Party of Uruguay to form the so-called Broad Front alliance. That caused conservative Catholics to form the Civic Union (Unión Cívica--UC) to offer religious voters a nonradical alternative, but the UC scarcely achieved any influence.

During the twentieth century, Protestant sects began to grow in importance. Estimates put the Protestant proportion of the population at 2 percent or a little higher in the late 1980s. From 1960 to 1985, the number of Protestants is estimated to have increased by 60 percent. Over the same period, the number of Protestants grew 500 percent or more in many Latin American countries. Uruguay was thus considered a "disappointment" by evangelical crusaders.

Jews constituted a small proportion of the population (about 2 percent), with most living in Montevideo. The size of the Jewish community had dwindled since 1970, primarily because of emigration.



The constitution provided that judicial power be vested in the Supreme Court of Justice. Immediately below the Supreme Court of Justice were six appellate courts, including the appellate court on criminal matters. Its judgment was by unanimous decision of the three justices. The next courts below the appellate courts were the courts of first instance, or lawyer courts (juzgados letrados), the principal courts of first instance for criminal felony cases. Montevideo had ten courts of first instance to hear criminal cases, the departments of Paysandú and Salto had two each, and each of the other departments had one. The lower justice of the peace courts heard minor cases and had original jurisdiction over most misdemeanors.

The nation's judicial system was based on the Napoleonic Code of 1804. Once a suspect was identified, the constitution required issuance of a written arrest warrant unless the suspect was caught during the commission of a crime. By law a suspect could be held incommunicado for twenty-four hours, after which he or she had to be brought before a judge to answer charges. Judges then had twenty-four hours to decide whether to release or to charge the individual. Once charges were brought, an accused had the right to legal counsel; a public defender was appointed to represent those accused who could not afford counsel. If the accused was charged with a crime carrying a penalty of at least two years, he or she could be confined during the investigation of the case. Bond was allowed in such cases, provided the individual was not deemed a danger to society or likely to flee.

The constitution required that all trials be held in public to the extent that they had to be open and give a public statement of the charge. According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, however, arguments by the prosecution and the defense were submitted to the judge in writing, and these written documents were not usually made public. The defense attorney had the right to review all written documents submitted to the court. The constitution did not provide protection against selfincrimination , and at trial an accused could be required to answer any questions from the judge. Based on the written statements submitted, the judge handed down his or her decision (usually without seeing the accused parties in person); there was no provision for trial by jury.

In the second half of the 1980s, several jurists and human rights groups suggested numerous changes to the judicial procedure to increase efficiency and fairness. Among the proposed reforms were the institution of trial by jury and tightened supervision of pretrial investigations, but as of 1990 none of these changes had been made.

The principal source of the nation's criminal law was the Penal Code of 1889, which was amended in 1934 and contained three books. The first book concerned general principles of the law and the definition of offenses, which were divided according to gravity into felonies and misdemeanors. The first book also defined various punishments, which comprised incarceration in a penitentiary or prison, exile, deprivation of political rights, disqualification or suspension of professional qualifications, and fines. It also discussed extenuating circumstances for a defendant, such as age, intoxication, or insanity. The second book concerned felony crimes, including crimes against the sovereignty of the state, the political order, public order, public administration, and public health. The remaining articles in the second book dealt with crimes against persons and property. The third book concerned misdemeanor offenses. In June 1989, the Penal Code was amended to provide sanctions against committing or inciting hatred or other forms of violence against persons based on race, color, religion, or national or ethnic origin.

In addition to the Penal Code, several other statutes covered criminal offenses. Drug legislation was covered in a 1974 law that regulated the commercial sale and use of controlled substances and penalized drug abuse and drug trafficking. Juvenile offenders were treated under a 1934 code for minors that established a juvenile court in Montevideo with jurisdiction over persons under the age of eighteen; in 1990 there were four such courts in Montevideo.

The Ministry of the Interior supervised the federal prisons and departmental jails. All nineteen departments maintained jails in which accused persons were temporarily housed pending trial and sentencing. All prisoners sentenced to confinement were held in one of three federal prisons or at the work colony at San José. Two of the federal prisons were for men, and the third was for women. The work colony was designed to aid in the rehabilitation of prisoners for whom agricultural work was believed to be helpful.

Although the three federal prisons existed independently of each other, a single entity in the ministry administered them. A prerelease facility housed prisoners about to complete their term of imprisonment. These individuals could bring their families to live with them until their final discharge. The prisoners themselves were in charge of the facility under the guidance of trained instructors. The prison area was surrounded by a wide moat. The prerelease facility was outside the moat. Visits to minimum security inmates took place in the open; medium security inmates were separated from visitors by a glass partition; and those in maximum security were separated by reinforced glass partitions, with telephones for communication.

The Penal Code provided that inmates of minimum security institutions could be employed in such activities as road building, quarrying, and similar public improvement projects. The obligation to work was established by law, and work was mandatory for prisoners who had not been tried. Prisoners earned small amounts for their labor; these sums were paid upon release. Prison labor was aimed at rehabilitating the individual, a principle no doubt derived from the country's tradition of extensive social services.



Official statistics on the incidence of crime during the 1980s were not available in 1990. In general, however, there did not appear to be an unusual degree of ordinary crime. Judging from reports in the national press, the level of crime was higher in urban areas, particularly in Montevideo, than in rural areas.

Smuggling was a perennial problem for law enforcement officials, and the borders with Argentina and Brazil were periodically closed during the late 1980s in an effort to control trafficking in contraband. In 1989 smuggling surged because of the strength of the Uruguayan new peso relative to Argentine and Brazilian currencies. The resulting fall in government tax revenue and legal domestic trade prompted the government to seal the borders once again. Residents of the border area protested, claiming that the government should differentiate between smalland large-scale smuggling.

During the late 1980s, the nation experienced problems with the sale and abuse of illegal narcotics and with drug trafficking. Stories in the domestic press covered a police raid on a cocaine laboratory and told of seizures of marijuana, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), and cocaine. In an effort to focus more resources on the problem, the government in July 1988 announced the formation of the National Council for the Prevention and Repression of Illicit Traffic and Improper Use of Drugs. The new body was responsible for coordinating the nation's antidrug campaign. After the international press reported in 1989 that Uruguayan gold merchants were involved in laundering drug money, the police began investigating possible domestic links to international drug-trafficking organizations.

The crime rate in Uruguay is medium compared to industrialized countries. An analysis was done using INTERPOL data for Uruguay. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The combined total of these offenses constitutes the Index used for trend calculation purposes. Uruguay will be compared with Japan (country with a low crime rate) and USA (country with a high crime rate). According to the INTERPOL data, for murder, the rate in 2000 was 6.67 per 100,000 population for Uruguay, 1.10 for Japan, and 5.51 for USA. For rape, the rate in 2000 was 10.78 for Uruguay, compared with 1.78 for Japan and 32.05 for USA. For robbery, the rate in 2000 was 195.15 for Uruguay, 4.08 for Japan, and 144.92 for USA. For aggravated assault, the rate in 2000 was 128.83 for Uruguay, 23.78 for Japan, and 323.62 for USA. For burglary, the rate in 2000 was 323.92 for Uruguay, 233.60 for Japan, and 728.42 for USA. The rate of larceny for 2000 was 554.28 for Uruguay, 1401.26 for Japan, and 2475.27 for USA. The rate for motor vehicle theft in 2000 was 126.12 for Uruguay, compared with 44.28 for Japan and 414.17 for USA. The rate for all index offenses combined was 1345.75 for Uruguay, compared with 1709.88 for Japan and 4123.97 for USA.



Between 1998 and 2000, according to INTERPOL data, the rate of murder decreased from 8.47 to 6.67 per 100,000 population, a decrease of 21.3%. The rate for rape increased from 9.7 to 10.78, an increase of 11.1%. The rate of robbery increased from 138.06 to 195.15, an increase of 41.4%. The rate for aggravated assault increased from 119.51 to 128.83, an increase of 7.8%. The rate for burglary increased from 62.46 to 323.92, an increase of 418.6%. The rate of larceny decreased from 1164.09 to 554.28, a decrease of 52.4%. The rate of motor vehicle theft decreased from 137.43 to 126.12, a decrease of 8.2%. The rate of total index offenses decreased from 1639.72 to 1345.75, an increase of 17.9%.



Public order was well established in the nation, and the government committed sufficient resources to law enforcement to maintain domestic order throughout the country. Urban and rural areas were generally safe, as was travel throughout the nation. Citizens were able to conduct day-to-day affairs in peace and without government interference. The constitution guaranteed the right to privacy and due process and freedom of the press, association, assembly, and religion. After the return to civilian rule in 1985, all of these rights were routinely respected by the government and by law enforcement agencies.

Several groups that were suppressed or banned under the period of military rule had since emerged as active participants in the national political life. These included leftist political parties, students, and labor organizations. During the late 1980s, each of these groups participated in protests or demonstrations. Such actions required government permits, which were routinely granted. Demonstrations by these groups were generally peaceful and free from government harassment.

Disputes between political parties or between factions of the same party occasionally flared into violence during the late 1980s; violence was usually minor, however, taking the form of vandalism or arson against party offices. In general, few injuries and little damage were sustained. In 1985 the government legalized all political parties, and as of 1990 there were no known political prisoners or any banned or illegal political groups in the nation.

The MLN-T, also known as the Tupamaros, was a former urban guerrilla organization given amnesty in 1985. The MLN-T was established in 1962 by Raúl Sendic Antonaccio, leader of a group of students, peasants, and intellectuals who espoused an extreme nationalist and socialist ideology. Organized according to a clandestine cell-based structure, the movement conducted a guerrilla campaign from 1963 to 1973 that included bank robberies, kidnappings, sabotage, and jail breaks. The army effectively destroyed the Tupamaros in 1972, and its leaders were imprisoned for long terms or forced into exile. After the remaining Tupamaro prisoners were freed under an amnesty decree in March 1985, the MLN-T publicly renounced armed struggle and committed itself to left-wing parliamentary politics. In 1990 the Tupamaros constituted a marginal political force of some several hundred members. The group published a newspaper and operated a radio station in Montevideo.

Student organizations, repressed during the military regime, reestablished themselves in 1985 when academic freedom and university autonomy were restored. Several professors who had been dismissed for ideological reasons were allowed to return to their positions as well. During the late 1980s, students held several protests, none of which had a serious effect on public order.

Labor unions and labor activists were also targets of repression under the military regime. During the late 1980s, however, labor activity resumed, and several labor actions and strikes took place. Certain of these activities caused localized disruption of day-to-day activities, but most grievances were solved within a short time, and none led to serious violence. In 1986, during a strike by the staff of the state-owned National Administration of Fuels, Alcohol, and Portland Cement (Administración Nacional de Combustibles, Alcohol, y Portland-- ANCAP), the military was called in to ensure distribution of fuel but did not act in a law enforcement capacity.

Local and international human rights groups operated freely in the nation during the late 1980s, and these groups surfaced no credible reports of killings or disappearances. The constitution forbade brutal treatment of prisoners, and there were few accusations of torture of prisoners after 1985. The most dramatic exception took place in mid-1989, when the death of a bricklayer while in police custody led to charges of police brutality and mistreatment. Although the police maintained the man hanged himself in his cell, controversy over the case led to the resignation of the minister of the interior and to the conviction of a deputy police chief for misconduct.

Human rights groups took serious exception to the 1986 law providing amnesty for military and police personnel charged with committing human rights abuses under the military government. According to a study by the General Assembly, some forty-six members of the military and police benefited from the amnesty. Human rights groups, however, claimed that the real number was well over 100. Military and police officers charged with corruption or with financial irregularities were not covered under the amnesty. In 1988 a former army general and a former minister of agriculture and fishing were charged with making illicit financial transactions during the period of military rule.

The National Police was established in 1829, one year after the country gained its independence. At that time, each department was assigned a police chief, similar to the system in modern use. As of 1990, police forces numbered approximately 17,500, a ratio of about five police officers to each 1,000 inhabitants. At least 20 percent of the total was assigned to the capital area, in which about one-half of the country's total population lived. In all, about 40 percent of the police force was assigned to urban areas, and the remainder were assigned to rural settlements.

Article 168 of the constitution gave the president, acting through the minister of the interior, responsibility for the preservation of public order. Article 173 authorized him to appoint a chief of police for each of the departments, whom he was authorized to remove at will.

The Ministry of the Interior had the responsibility for ensuring public safety throughout the nation, except for coastal areas and the shores of navigable rivers and lakes, which were the responsibility of the National Maritime Police, under the Uruguayan Navy. Police training was centralized under the administration of the ministry, which oversaw the operation of the Police Training Academy. The academy, established in 1936, had separate schools for officers and cadets and for other ranks. The course for noncommissioned officers ran for one year, and the course for cadets ran for two years. The academy also offered inservice and specialty courses of varying lengths.

Subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior, the National Police was organized into four operating agencies: the Montevideo Police, the Interior Police, the National Traffic Police, and the National Corps of Firemen. Each of these agencies was administratively a separate entity, handling most personnel administration, including recruitment, separately.

The Montevideo Police had five administrative divisions: investigation, security, support services, intelligence, and legal affairs. Operationally, it was divided into the patrol services, canine corps, security and traffic bureau, criminal investigation bureau, and antismuggling brigade. The criminal investigation bureau was unique in that it conducted operations nationwide, not just in the capital area. The Montevideo Police maintained twenty-nine police stations, one of which was concerned solely with urban traffic. The Montevideo Police also worked out of police posts in small towns and villages near the capital.

The Interior Police coordinated the activities of the police forces maintained by each department. The National Traffic Police controlled traffic on the nation's roadways. The National Corps of Firemen was a centralized fire-prevention and fire-fighting agency. Its personnel underwent basic training with police personnel but followed up with specialized training and career assignments. Detachments of the corps were assigned to police forces in each department and in the city of Montevideo.

Two police paramilitary organizations were assigned to the capital area. The first was the Republican Guard, which had some 500 personnel as of 1990. This unit was organized into cavalry elements used for guard duty, parades, and ceremonial occasions. When necessary, the Republican Guard was called on for riot duty backup for the regular police. The Metropolitan Guard was responsible principally for guarding municipal property, banks, and embassies. As of 1990, its personnel numbered some 650. The Metropolitan Guard was conceived of as a paramilitary force and was equipped with machine guns and riot-control gear. The unit was also charged with helping the police control disturbances and acting as a ready reserve for emergencies of all types.

Today, the Interior Ministry administers the country's police departments and the prison system and is responsible for domestic security and public safety. The military is responsible for external security within the prison system. The civilian authorities exercise effective control over the security forces. Unlike the previous year, there were no reports of human rights abuses by the police during the year 2001.

There were no reports of arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life committed by the Government or its agents. At least two prisoners were killed by other prisoners during the year 2001.

The 1986 Amnesty Law prohibits criminal prosecution of members of the security forces who perpetrated extrajudicial killings, torture, and other abuses during the 12 years of military rule from 1973-85. However, some victims and relatives of victims had success using the civilian courts to seek redress.

An appeals court decision in December overturned a 1998 trial-level court decision awarding damages to 12 former political prisoners and their families who sued the Government for damages suffered as a result of their imprisonment, torture, and in three cases death in custody during the military dictatorship. Although in 1998 a trial-level court ordered the Government to pay each plaintiff approximately $93,600 (1.17 million pesos) in damages, an appellate-level court later reduced this award to approximately $16,850 (210,600 pesos) per person for 11 of the cases and $23,640 (295,500 pesos) for the other case. The plaintiffs appealed the trial-level court's decision. In December Appellate Court Judge Rolando Vomero dismissed the case, on the grounds that since the individual responsible for the deaths, then-Minister of Defense Enrique Magnani, died in 1987, there was no one to charge with the crime.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

The 1986 Amnesty Law required the Government to investigate the fate of those citizens who were detained and who then disappeared during the dictatorship; the first three administrations following the return to democracy consistently refused to do so. In 2000 the new Government for the first time undertook such an effort, and these efforts continued during the year 2001.

In August 2000, President Batlle created a National Peace Commission in order to clarify the fate of 179 Uruguayans believed to have disappeared for political reasons during the dictatorship (137 in Argentina, 30 in Uruguay, 7 in Chile, 3 in Paraguay, 1 in Bolivia, and 1 in Brazil). The Commission was charged with receiving and analyzing information relevant to the disappeared persons. It is to prepare individual summaries of its conclusions as to the fate of each person and to recommend legal measures that the Government should adopt to compensate the families of the victims and resolve the victims' legal status, such as by declaring them legally dead. By year's end 2001, the Commission had discovered the fates of up to 16 missing Uruguayans; with the families' permission results in 8 cases were released to the press. A poll showed that more than 80 percent of the population approves of the Peace Commission, which consists of six members appointed by the President and operates under the supervision of the office of the President. One retired military officer told the press that "hundreds" of current and retired officers serving during the period of military rule had adopted a pact of silence with regard to the disappearances, and the military has stated that they will not apologize for their actions during this time. Although the Commission was created with an initial mandate of 120 days, in December 2000 that mandate was extended and the President has stated that it will continue to be extended as long as needed. The Commission's findings are shared directly with the relatives of the persons who disappeared, but no information is made public unless the families agree.

Some persons have sought justice in non-Uruguayan courts for human rights violations that occurred during military rule. In 1999 Sara Mendez filed papers in an Argentine court formally accusing five retired members of the Uruguayan military with the 1976 kidnaping of her infant from her Buenos Aires home. The case remained pending in Argentine courts. During the year 2001, Mendez gave testimony on several occasions and traveled through Europe to seek international support for her case; and the Peace Commission was working on the case at year's end 2001. An Italian prosecutor continued to investigate charges brought in an Italian court in 1999 against four present and former members of the military and one police officer accused of responsibility in the disappearance of eight Italian-Uruguayan dual nationals.

The Constitution prohibits brutal treatment of prisoners; unlike in the previous year, there were no reports of abuses by police. On occasion such abuse had resulted in forced confessions.

The judicial and parliamentary branches of government are responsible for investigating specific allegations of abuse. An internal police investigative unit receives complaints from any person concerning possible noncriminal police abuse of power, but it is understaffed and only can issue recommendations for disciplinary action. Ministry of Interior authorities act promptly if accusations of alleged police brutality are reported. Police officers charged with less serious crimes may continue on active duty; those charged with more serious crimes are separated from active service until a court resolves their cases. The 1995 Public Security Law requires a proportional use of force by the police and the use of weapons only as a last resort, in accordance with U.N. codes regarding the use of force; and this law is respected in practice. During the year 2001 a judge sentenced a female police officer to a prison term for shooting into a group of men who were attacking her in Montevideo.

The appeal of a group of 12 former political prisoners (and their survivors) to reverse a reduction in the award made by a trial court for the damages that they suffered due to their imprisonment and torture was dismissed in December.



The Constitution requires the police to have a written warrant issued by a judge before making an arrest, and the authorities generally respected this provision in practice. The only exception is when the police apprehend the accused during commission of a crime. The Constitution also provides the accused with the right to a judicial determination of the legality of detention and requires that the detaining authority explain the legal grounds for the detention. In June 2000, the President signed a new law that obligates police officers to inform individuals of the reason for their arrest. Police may hold a detainee incommunicado for 24 hours before presenting the case to a judge, at which time the detainee has the right to counsel. It was during this period of time that police sometimes had abused detainees, occasionally resulting in forced confessions; however, unlike the previous year, there were no reports of such abuse during the year 2001.

The law stipulates that confessions obtained by the police before a detainee appears before a judge and attorney (without the police present) have no validity. Further, should a detainee claim that he has been mistreated, by law the judge must investigate the charge.

If the detainee cannot afford a lawyer, the courts appoint a public defender. If the crime carries a penalty of at least 2 years in prison, the accused person is confined during the judge's investigation of the charges unless the authorities agree to release the person on bail (which seldom happens). As a result, as of mid-2000 approximately 73 percent of all persons incarcerated were awaiting a final decision in their case (compared with 68 percent in mid-1999). Because of the slowness of the judicial process, the length of time detainees spend in jail before the judge issues a verdict may exceed the maximum sentence for their crime if convicted. The uncertainty as to how long one may be imprisoned is a factor creating tension within the country's prisons.

The Government does not use forced exile. The Constitution provides that in extreme cases of national emergency an individual may be given the option to leave the country as an alternative to trial or imprisonment; however, this option has not been exercised for at least 2 decades.



The legal system of Uruguay is based on Spanish civil law system. Like all previous charters, the 1967 constitution established the judicial branch as an independent power of the state. The Supreme Court of Justice headed the judiciary, both civilian and military. Lower civilian courts included six appellate courts (for civil matters, criminal matters, and labor matters), courts of first instance (sometimes referred to as lawyer courts [juzgados letrados]), and justice of the peace courts.

During the military regime (1973-85), the Ministry of Justice administered the courts, and military officers were appointed to the highest courts. As a result of the 1984 Naval Club Pact, which clipped the powers of the military courts, the judicial branch regained its autonomy when Sanguinetti assumed office on March 1, 1985. That May the General Assembly, despite the opposition of the Colorado Party, declared all posts of the Supreme Court of Justice vacant on the grounds that none of the justices had been legally appointed. Accordingly, all of the military officers appointed by the military regime to the high court or the appellate courts retired from their positions. Sanguinetti then formally abolished the Ministry of Justice, retaining only the minister of justice post. Nevertheless, there was a continuing public debate during his administration over the need to reform the legal and judicial systems.

Located in Montevideo, the Supreme Court of Justice managed the entire judicial system. It prepared budgets for the judiciary and submitted them to the General Assembly for approval, proposed all legislation regarding the functioning of the courts, appointed judges to the appellate courts, and nominated all other judges and judicial officials. It had the power to modify any decisions made by the appellate courts and was the only court allowed to declare the unconstitutionality of laws passed by the General Assembly. It alone decided on conflicts affecting diplomats and international treaties, the execution of the rulings of foreign courts, and relations among agencies of the government. The president of the Supreme Court of Justice was empowered to attend meetings of the committees of both chambers of the General Assembly and had a voice in discussion but had no vote.

A conference of the two chambers of the General Assembly appointed the five members of the Supreme Court of Justice. The justices had to be between forty and seventy years of age, native-born citizens in full possession of their civil rights, or legal citizens with ten years' exercise of their rights and twenty-five years of residence in the country. They also had to have been a lawyer for ten years or to have been a judge or member of the Public Ministry for eight years. (The Public Ministry consisted of the public attorneys, headed by the "attorney general of the court and attorney of the country," who acted independently before the Supreme Court of Justice.) Members served for ten years and could be reelected after a break of five years. At the appointment of the president, two military justices served on the Supreme Court of Justice on an ad hoc basis and participated only in cases involving the military.

Each of the appellate courts, also located in Montevideo, had three judges appointed by the Supreme Court of Justice with the consent of the Senate. To be a member, one had to be at least thirty-five years of age, a native-born citizen or legal citizen for seven years, and a lawyer with at least eight years of experience or otherwise engaged in a law-related profession for at least six years. An appellate court judge was obliged to retire by age seventy. These courts did not have original jurisdiction but heard appeals from lower courts. The appellate courts divided responsibilities for civil matters (including matters concerning commerce, customs, and minors), as well as for criminal and labor affairs.

In Montevideo Department, the judges of first instance, sometimes referred to as lawyer judges (jueces letrados), decided on the appeals to lower-court rulings. In 1990 Montevideo Department had forty judges of first instance, including eighteen who decided on civil matters, four on minors, three on customs, ten on criminal cases, and five on labor cases.

Outside Montevideo Department, the first decision on all cases of civil, family, customs, criminal, or labor law was submitted to the municipal judges of first instance. Each department had up to five municipal judges of first instance, located in the major cities. They could rule on most minor cases, with the exception of those that were within the competence of the justices of the peace. Both municipal judges of first instance and the Montevideo Department judges of first instance had to have previously served as justices of the peace.

At the lowest level, each of the country's 224 judicial divisions had a justice of the peace court. The Supreme Court of Justice appointed the 224 justices of the peace for four-year terms. They had to be at least twenty-five years of age, nativeborn citizens or legal citizens for two years, and in full possession of their civil rights. Those who served in Montevideo Department and the capitals and major cities of other departments had to be lawyers; those in rural areas had to be either lawyers or notaries. Their jurisdiction was limited to cases involving eviction, breach of contract, collection of rent, and all smallclaims commercial and business cases.

The law recognized only one category of lawyer. In order to practice law, an individual had to first obtain the degree of law and social sciences from the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences of the University of the Republic (also known as the University of Montevideo). The degree was granted by the university after the successful completion of six years of studies. Candidates had to be at least twenty-one years of age, listed in the Register of Lawyers maintained by the Supreme Court of Justice, not be under indictment for a crime penalized by corporal punishment, and not have been convicted of a crime. A public defender system was established in 1980 with the placing of lawyers in all courts to assist those unable to pay for their services. Public defenders-- appointed jointly by the president and the minister of justice-- protected the society's interests.

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respects this provision in practice.

The Supreme Court heads the judiciary system and supervises the work of the lower courts. A parallel military court system operates under a Military Justice Code. Two military justices sit on the Supreme Court but participate only in cases involving the military. Military justice applies to civilians only during a state of war or insurrection.

Trial proceedings usually are based on written arguments to the judge, which are not made public routinely. Only the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney have access to all documents that form part of the written record. Individual judges may hear oral arguments at their option. Most judges choose the written method, a major factor slowing the judicial process. There is no legal provision against self-incrimination, and judges may compel defendants to answer any question they pose. Either the defense attorney or the prosecutor may appeal convictions to a higher court, which may acquit the person of the crime, confirm the conviction, or reduce or increase the sentence.

A 1997 law to reform and modernize the Criminal Code provides for more oral argument by prosecution and defense attorneys, less investigative responsibility for judges, and is expected to accelerate the pace of criminal trials. Although the law was to take effect in 1998, budget constraints have resulted in repeated postponement of its implementation, and it is not scheduled for implementation until 2004.

There were no reports of political prisoners.



Conditions in prisons for the approximately 5,230 prisoners remain poor but not life threatening. A 1997 legislative human rights commission report criticized the "excessive use of force and abuse of authority" by prison guards and officials, and stated that sanitation and health standards in the prison system were "unacceptable." This report reflected the work of a previous commission that in 1996 published a report to the Government citing overcrowding, lack of staff training, corruption, and physical violence as problems. Due to budget problems, such conditions have not improved since these reports. Prisons remain overcrowded, with up to eight prisoners sharing a cell. There is also a need for 400 more corrections officers. During the year 2001, the army was called in to guard the perimeter of at least one prison, COMCAR, located in San Jose Province, following problems that included multiple escapes and prisoners taking a film crew hostage. At least two prisoners were killed in COMCAR during the year 2001, in reprisals for providing information to the authorities. Prisoners often must supplement prison provisions with bedding, medicines, and toiletries brought by friends or relatives. According to press reports and a study conducted by Servicio Paz y Justicia (SERPAJ), a nongovernmental organization (NGO), HIV-positive inmates sometimes received inadequate medical treatment.

Female prisoners are held in separate facilities from male prisoners; most are held in a women's prison in Montevideo. Some provincial prisons have separate facilities for their small number of female prisoners. In general conditions for female prisoners are significantly better than for male prisoners, in large part because of the small number of female inmates.

Minors are held in institutions operated by the National Institute for Minors (INAME). The 1995 Public Security Law allows the Government to put minors with a record of violent crimes in adult prisons if INAME has no room in its own institutions. Even though the law stipulates that minors would occupy separate facilities within the prisons, human rights groups adamantly opposed this provision. As a result, INAME decided not to send minors to adult prisons and did not do so during the year 2001. Juvenile offenders are separated according to their gender, age, and the severity of their crime. Juveniles who commit serious crimes are incarcerated in juvenile detention centers, which resemble traditional jails and have cells. Conditions in these facilities are generally better than those in ordinary jails, in part because they are less crowded. Juvenile offenders who pose less of a threat to society are placed in halfway house facilities, oriented toward rehabilitation, in which a group of offenders lives together with adult counselors. These facilities provide educational, vocational, and other opportunities, and the juvenile offenders are able to enter and leave without restriction.

The Government did not permit general prison visits by independent human rights monitors during the year 2001, citing safety issues as the reason. However, inmate visitation continued and foreign diplomats could visit prisons.


Violence against women continues to be a serious problem. A 1999 Ministry of Public Health study projected that within 5 years, domestic violence would constitute the second most prevalent threat to public health, after traffic accidents. The law provides for sentences of 6 months to 2 years in prison for a person found guilty of committing an act of violence or of making continuing threats to cause bodily injury to persons related emotionally or legally to the perpetrator. The State-owned telephone company provides a free nationwide hot line answered by trained NGO employees for victims of domestic violence. Between January and September, the service received 2,596 calls, a rate lower than in previous years. Persons calling the hot line are provided counseling, free legal advice, and may be referred to NGO's that can provide further social services. A law signed in June 2000 increased sentences for rape and certain other sexually related crimes. The Criminal Code covers spousal abuse and spousal rape, although criminal charges rarely are initiated for those crimes.

A government office of assistance for victims of domestic violence trains police how to resolve complaints of violence against women. A directorate within the Ministry of Interior continued a public awareness campaign about domestic violence and operated community assistance centers where abuse victims receive information and referrals to government and private organizations in their area that aid abused women. Both the Ministry of Interior and NGO's operate shelters in which abused women and their families can seek temporary refuge.



The Government generally is committed to protecting children's rights and welfare, and it regards the education and health of children as a top priority. An institute in the Ministry of Interior oversees implementation of the Government's programs for children but receives only limited funding for programs. The Government provides free, compulsory primary and secondary education, and 95 percent of children complete their primary education. Girls and boys are treated similarly. Free education is available through the undergraduate level at the national university.

There is no societal pattern of abuse of children. Minors under the age of 18 are not subject to criminal trial but receive special treatment with special judges and, when sentenced, stay in institutions run by INAME for the period determined by the judge; these institutions emphasize the rehabilitation of minors. INAME maintains an extensive network of programs, including shelters for at-risk children. INAME also operates a confidential hot line for children who are victims of domestic abuse.

An estimated 40 percent of children under the age of 5 live in the poorest 20 percent of homes. While health care is free to all citizens, the Government with the help of UNICEF has undertaken a program to educate parents regarding the need for regular checkups and immunization.

In May the authorities discovered a group of children trafficked to the country for labor.



There are no laws specifically addressing trafficking in persons; however, there were some infrequent cases involving trafficking.

In May the authorities discovered a small child-labor ring. Traffickers had promised a better life to seven Ecuadorian youths and one young adult, as well as one Colombian; however, once in the country they were forced to work in inadequate conditions, including working 80 hours a week, carrying heavy packages, and receiving inadequate food. In addition, the youth were denied proper medical care, and one girl had to have her finger amputated. The ringleaders were tried, convicted, and imprisoned on charges of violating the child protection and labor laws. INAME placed the youth in temporary shelters and repatriated them to Ecuador in coordination with the Ecuadorian Consulate.

There are no reliable estimates on the number of Uruguayan women who work as prostitutes abroad generally in Europe and Australia or the proportion of them who were induced into such work by fraud or are subjected to conditions approaching servitude.

The country is also used infrequently as a transit country by traffickers; however, there were no reports of such activity during the year 2001.

In 1999 government authorities discovered three Somalis working in peonage on a farm near the capital, presumably earning the cost of their onward trip to Central America.

The Ministry of the Interior has primary responsibility for investigating trafficking cases.



Uruguay is not a drug-producing country. Efforts by the Government of Uruguay (GOU) to combat both drug trafficking and consumption continue to move forward under the leadership of Uruguayan drug czar Alberto Scavarelli. USG-GOU bilateral cooperation is very good. A comprehensive anti-drug bill, which criminalizes money laundering, imposes controls upon precursor chemicals, and strengthens penalties against drug trafficking, was approved in October 1998. The new law conforms to UN and OAS Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) standards. Uruguay is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.

Uruguay's relatively sophisticated banking system, in conjunction with its economic and political stability, has historically attracted foreign bank deposits, primarily from Argentina and Brazil. While liberal currency exchange and bank secrecy laws make Uruguay an important regional financial center, they also make it vulnerable to narcotics-related money laundering. A new anti-drug law includes provisions, which make money laundering a crime, and requires banks and exchange houses to regularly transmit financial transaction data to the Central Bank for analysis.

Counternarcotics is a GOU priority policy which receives strong presidential support, although funding levels remain relatively low. Anti-drug efforts and programs were centralized in 1995 under the leadership of Alberto Scavarelli, deputy chief of staff in the Office of the Presidency, and the level of cooperation among most law enforcement agencies is high. Formerly weak controls on money laundering and precursor chemicals were remedied by the recently approved anti-drug bill, which puts the GOU in compliance with the 1988 UN Drug Convention.

The "ley cristal" (or transparency law), designed to fight government corruption, was approved by the Uruguayan legislature in December 1998 and entered into force in January 1999. The statute criminalizes a broad range of potential abuses of power by government office holders, including the laundering of funds related to cases of public corruption, and institutes financial disclosure requirements for high government officials. Drug-related corruption is not a major problem, and there is no evidence that any senior GOU official has engaged in drug trafficking or money laundering. Under the citizen security law, public officials who know of a drug-related crime or incident and do nothing about it can be charged with a "crime of omission."

Uruguay is currently not a major drug-transit country, although its use as a transshipment point may be increasing. Most of the drug shipments seized in 1998 were destined for Europe. The large amount of containerized cargo passing through the port of Montevideo is susceptible to narcotics shipments. The porous border between northern Uruguay and Brazil may be a major entry point for drugs destined for both domestic use and international shipment. This border is vulnerable to potential transshipments by air and truck of marijuana originating from Brazil and Paraguay, as well as cocaine from Andean countries.

To halt the rise of domestic drug consumption, the GOU is implementing a coordinated and ambitious demand reduction program under the direction of the National Drug Commission (Junta Nacional de Drogas). The primary focus of this program over the last two years has been to train primary and secondary school teachers to reach children during their formative years and to ensure that drug education is an integral part of the national school curriculum. Approximately 3,000 teachers will have been trained regarding instruction and counseling methods when this project concludes in 1999. Demand reduction efforts also extend to sports clubs, where thousands of youth spend their time, combining the idea of a drug-free life with a healthy life. In addition, in 1998 the GOU sponsored many seminars and public meetings throughout Uruguay relating to drug abuse and treatment.

Criminology Links
Criminal Codes
Incidence of Crime
Drug Trafficking
Legal System
Juvenile Delinquency
Crime Prevention

Other Links
Online literature
Travel tips
International criminal justice agencies
Legal system
News and media
Correspondent email addresses
Distance learning courses
Comparative criminology-related sites

A Comparative Criminology Tour of the World
Dr. Robert Winslow
San Diego State University