Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1987

Uruguay returned to its democratic tradition of a freely
elected executive branch, independent bicameral legislature,
and autonomous judiciary when 12 years of military rule ended
on March 1, 1985. Since the resumption of democracy, Uruguay
has experienced a high level of political participation from
all sectors of the society, marked by vigorous and unrestricted
debate over national issues. President Julio Maria
Sanguinetti s Colorado Party holds a plurality in the
Parliament which resumed its independent role in the political
life of the nation. The judicial branch also regained its
independent status, and there is a continuing public debate
over the need to reform the legal and judicial systems.
Political parties, the press, labor unions, private interest
groups, and other nongovernmental groups function freely.
In 1985 and 1987, the Uruguayan economy showed significant
growth after many years of stagnation. This was largely the
result of increased prices for beef and wool, diversification
of trade into nontraditional exports, and strengthened
commercial ties with its immediate neighbors, Brazil and
Argentina, as well as with the United States and Europe. Real
incomes have recovered some of the ground lost in the previous
decade. The Government is considering reform of the
comprehensive, but expensive, social welfare system and is
planning to trim the extensive network of state enterprises
which dominate many sectors of the economy.
During 1987 there were no credible reports of human rights
violations. All political prisoners and even some nonpolitical
ones in effect received amnesty, including release from prison,
after the return to democracy in 1985. However, despite the
passage of the 1986 Law on Expiration, which effectively
exempted military and police personnel from prosecution for
alleged human rights abuses committed under orders during the
military regime, public debate on this subject continues. The
Law of Expiration was adopted with the idea of putting the
country's past behind it and consolidating democracy. The
executive branch determines if cases already pending against
military and police officials for human rights abuses are
covered by the law's provisions; if so, the cases are
considered closed. Cases thus far forwarded by the Supreme
Court to the executive branch have been found to be covered by
the law.
Under Article 79 of the Constitution which permits the
overturning of laws by referendum, a commission headed by
relatives of victims of human rights abuses mounted a campaign
to gather signatures to submit the Law of Expiration to a
popular vote. On December 17, the national proref erendum
commission delivered the petition to the Electoral Court,
which at the end of 1987 was charged with authenticating the
signatures to determine if 25 percent of eligible voters
signed the petition.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
     a. Political Killing
No cases of political killings were reported.
     b. Disappearanceppearance
No cases of disappearance were reported.
     c. Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishmenture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
No cases of torture or deliberately inhuman treatment were
reported. Local human rights groups continue to express
concerns about adverse prison conditions.
     d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, Exile or Forced Laborrary Arrest, Detention, Exile, or Forced Labor
No cases of arbitrary arrest, detention, exile, or forced or
compulsory labor were reported.
The Constitution of 1967 requires a written warrant for an
arrest except in cases where the accused is apprehended during
the commission of a crime. The Constitution provides the right
to a judicial determination of the legality of detention and
requires that the detaining authority in an arrest explain and
justify the legal grounds for the detention before the
judiciary. A prisoner also has the right to counsel and the
right to give a statement and appear before a judge within
24 hours of detention. The judge must begin the judicial
process within 48 hours of arrest. Failure to comply with
this 48-hour rule has led to the release of detainees. Bond
is allowed in those criminal trials which could lead to a
penitentiary sentence. The Constitution stipulates that
prisons are to be used only for rehabilitation and reeducation,
and it prohibits both the death penalty and brutal treatment of
prisoners. Military justice is on]y applicable to civilians
during a state of war or insurrection. These constitutional
provisions are respected in practice.
     e. Denial of Fair Public Trial of Fair Public Trial
The judiciary regained its autonomy in 1985, and military
officers appointed by the military regime to the Supreme Court
or the higher Appeals Court retired from their positions. The
law provides for two military justices on the Supreme Court
who participate only in cases involving the military. All
trials are public according to the Constitution. Trials must
open with a public statement of the charge by the prosecutor
or the complainant. Uruguayan judges traditionally hand down
decisions on the basis of written summaries which are not made
public. There is a parallel military court system under the
military justice code.
     f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home or Correspondencerary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The Constitution provides for the right to privacy, and the
home, absolutely inviolable at night, can be entered and
searched only with a legal warrant during the day. Protection
for private papers and correspondence is equally strong, and a
warrant is required for confiscation. These rights and
protections are well respected. Investigations of wiretapping
during the military regime continue, but there has been no
evidence of any such activity after March 1985.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
     a. Freedom of Speech and Pressof Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press.
Newspapers and magazines are published by all sectors of the
political spectrum, including formerly proscribed organizations
such as the Communist Party and the Tupamaro movement which
conducted terrorist campaigns in the late 1960's and early
1970's. Criticism of the Government is allowed and widely
practiced. Some journalists fear that a 1984 press law, under
which journalists can be fined or imprisoned for defamation or
slander, could be used to restrict press freedom. One
journalist was convicted in 1987 of making false statements
concerning the business connections of a senator and the
director of the state insurance bank, but he was not
The national university is autonomous, and academic freedom is
highly respected. University elections have been held twice
since 1985, and student groups have reestablished themselves
in the political life of the campus. Most professors fired
for political or ideological reasons by the military regime
have returned to their positions, although some isolated cases
remain under study.
     b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Associationof Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of assembly and association are protected by law.
Formerly banned groups, such as the Tupamaros, are free to
organize and express their opinions. Public marches and
demonstrations are allowed with permits from the Ministry of
the Interior and occur without official harassment or
intimidation. Persons denied citizenship rights by the
military regime because of political affiliation or activity
have had their rights fully restored.
The Constitution provides for the right of workers to organize
freely and encourages the formation of unions. The Interunion
Workers Assembly-National Workers Association (PIT-CNT) , which
represents the majority of Uruguay's unions, has resumed
activities since the return to democracy. Workers have the
right to strike and bargain collectively, and both are widely
practiced. The Government supports these rights and promotes
collective bargaining by the Government, management, and labor
through salary councils for various sectors of the work force.
Trade and professional organizations are free to join the
general labor movement. The labor confederation (PIT-CNT) is
free to affiliate with international bodies, but has not done
so although some Uruguayan unions hold membership in trade
organizations associated with international confederations.
     c. Freedom of Religionof Religion
Freedom of religion, provided for by the Constitution, is
respected in practice. Most Uruguayans are Roman Catholic.
Members of other religions exercise their faiths unhindered,
and missionaries are free to proselytize.
     d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreignof Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Internal and foreign travel and emigration are unrestricted.
An estimated 300,000 Uruguayans left the country during the
military regime, some for political and others for economic
reasons. Programs to help in the repatriation process are now
active, and Uruguayans who wish to return are encouraged to do
so. All the prominent political figures exiled by the
military regime have returned.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Gonvernment
Uruguay is a multiparty democracy, with mandatory universal
suffrage for those 18 years of age or older. Voting is not
restricted by race, sex, religion, or economic status. The
Colorado Party, the Blanco or National Party, and a coalition
called the Broad Front are the three major political entities.
Each allows ideological divisions within the party, and each
subdivision may field its own slate for general elections;
senators are elected on an at-large basis, and deputies
proportionally. The Uruguayan electoral system combines a
primary and general election in a double simultaneous vote.
Each party fields different lists of candidates; in essence,
voters express a preference for a list rather than an
individual candidate, as well as vote for a party. The
winning list of the party which gets the most votes wins the
presidency and a percentage of seats in the Senate and Chamber
of Deputies corresponding to the percentage of votes that the
party as a whole received. A party, therefore, may run
multiple presidential candidates, each with his or her own
slate of legislative candidates. National and provincial
elections are held simultaneously every 5 years, with the next
election scheduled for November 1989.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The human rights performance of the Government since its
return to democratic rule in 1985 has not been of major
concern to internationally based human rights organizations.
The Government is open to such organizations and does not
restrict the activities of human rights investigators. The
American Association for the Advancement of Science conducted
an investigation of physicians' participation in torture
during the military regime and was allowed to interview
military medical personnel. The results of this investigation
were later published. Amnesty International (AI) in a letter
to the President of Uruguay expressed concerns regarding the
1986 amnesty law. The President provided a point-by-point
response to AI's inquiry which became a matter of public
Local human rights groups, some of which could not operate
openly under military rule, now function freely and without
restriction. A prominent local human rights group, SERPAJ
(Peace and Justice Service), was legalized in early 1985 after
being forced to operate underground for 2 years during the
military regime. SERPAJ now investigates both nonpolitical
human rights issues, such as prison conditions, and
politically controversial cases, involving death, torture, and
disappearances which occurred during the military regime. A
Uruguayan congressional commission investigated the murder of
an Uruguayan senator and a representative in Buenos Aires
during the time of the military regime but uncovered no
evidence of direct complicity by Uruguayan military or police
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Uruguay has long been one of the most egalitarian countries in
Latin America and has a well-developed welfare system.
Statistically there are few racial or linguistic minorities in
Uruguay. Nonwhites are disproportionately represented at the
lower end of the economic scale, but this is not the result of
legislated discrimination.
Uruguayan women enjoy complete equality under the law. They
pursue professional careers and attend the National University
in large numbers. There are women serving in cabinet
positions, the Supreme Court and lower courts, and in the
diplomatic service up to the ambassadorial level. There are
currently no female members of the Parliament, but several
serve as alternates. Some barriers to equality still exist
because of traditional social patterns and restricted
employment opportunities. Pay is not always equal for men and
women, especially in less skilled jobs.
For many decades, Uruguay has had some of the most advanced
workers' rights legislation in Latin America. Children are
not legally permitted to work until they have obtained a
primary education. Children under the age of 15 are not
generally employed, but they can work from the age of 12 with
special permits from the Government. Children under the age
of 18 cannot perform dangerous, fatiguing, or night work,
apart from domestic service. Salary and hours for children
are also more strictly controlled than for adults. Children
over 16 years of age can sue in court for payment of wages,
and child laborers have the right to dispose of their own
wages by law. Children working in the informal sector, such
as street vendors, itinerant laborers, and others with no
fixed place of work, or in the agrarian sector are generally
less strictly regulated and receive lower pay. Adults
normally work six 8-hour days, 48 hours per week.
Workers are entitled to 10 days of paid vacation after 1 year
of service, and this vacation period increases with each year
of additional service. Wages must include a Christmas bonus
in addition to the paid vacation. Workers are at least
theoretically protected by minimum wage laws and legislation
regulating the health and safety of working conditions. The
minimum wage, which does not apply to rural or domestic
workers, was adjusted three times in 1987, as were private and
public workers' salaries. In dollar terms, the minimum wage
decreased slightly during the year, dropping from the
equivalent of about $90 per month after the February
adjustment to about $85 per month after the November
adjustment decreed by the Government. Health and safety
conditions are extensively and effectively regulated. Special
regulations which limit working hours or mandate safety
equipment are applied nationwide to industries deemed
"unhealthy," and they are enforced by inspectors from the
Ministry of Labor