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Uruguay is taking steps toward righting many wrongs committed during the tumultuous period of military rule. From 1973 until 1985 the South American country was run as a military dictatorship . During this time about 200 people are believed to have disappeared.
In 1986, as Uruguay was reestablishing itself as a democracy, the Expiry Law was passed. This law gave amnesty to many of the military personnel responsible for human rights abuses during the military rule. It also gave the president the power to choose which human rights abuse cases could be looked at by the courts.
During the height of the military regime’s rule at least 7,000 political prisoners were detained. Many of the people imprisoned by the regime have come out to say that they were tortured and abused. The Expiry Law kept the guilty safe and out of prosecution’s power. Even after outcries by those who were prisoners, their families and even international pressure, the law was never annulled. What is even more surprising is that the Uruguay Supreme Court has, on more than one occasion, concluded that the law is unconstitutional, yet until recently nothing has been done.
Uruguay’s current president, Jose Mujica, has finally decided to reopen 80 cases of abuse for investigation. This comes just a month after a failed attempt in Uruguay’s congress to annul the Expiry Law. Pressure from the Inter-American Human Rights Court paved the way for President Mujica to reopen the cases.
According to Presidential Secretary Alberto Breccia, all of this is being done for “ethical reasons” as well as a result of various human rights treaties that Uruguay has ratified.
Many of the abuses were perpetrated outside of the country. Uruguayan citizens were abducted and killed in various countries throughout South America. The military worked with neighboring countries in an operation dubbed “Operation Corridor.” This allowed the militaries of other countries to find, abduct, and eliminate leftist political opponents to the military regime in Uruguay.
Mujica was a guerilla that fought against the military dictatorship. During this time Mujica himself was captured and tortured by the military. It is surprising that a man who was subjected the cruelty of the military dictatorship would wait so long to allow the investigation of human rights abuses that he witnessed and lived though.
The last time Uruguay allowed an investigation into the crimes committed from 1973-1985 was in 2005 under President Tabare Vazquez. This investigation concluded that at least 38 people were executed or died as a result of torture at the hands of the military, although the number is most likely much higher.
President Mujica is expected to sign the decree to reopen the 80 cases by the end of this week. After that, the cases are given over to the courts, which will then decide how to go about each case and whether to open the archives containing the files about the cases that will be reopened or not. The reason for the delay in signing is to give relatives of victims the time to ask for their cases not to be reopened.
Although the Expiry Law is still in effect, Uruguay is taking measures to ensure justice. Lawmakers need to get on the same page and annul the law in order to bring down criminals of the regime and to give victims and their families the closure and justice that they deserve. For now all anyone can hope for is that the 80 cases that are to be reopened are successful in bringing down those responsible for the abuses and human rights violations that were committed.
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