MONTEVIDEO – The Uruguayan Supreme Court has ruled that a law providing amnesty for human rights violations committed during the 1973-1985 dictatorship is unconstitutional.
The court’s unanimous decision, which coincides with a controversial effort in Congress to overturn a law protecting former military and law enforcement officials from prosecution for rights abuses, came in a case against former strongman Juan Maria Bordaberry for the deaths of 20 people.
The ruling comes amid heated legislative debate between the governing center-left Broad Front, or FA, coalition and the opposition, after the government sent Congress a bill to rescind the Ley de Caducidad (Expiry Law) even though the amnesty was upheld in referendums in 1989 and 2009.
The last effort to overturn the law coincided with the 2009 election of ex-Tupamaro guerrilla Jose Mujica as president and dealt a harsh blow to the hopes of labor and human rights activists.
The FA has justified the new bill, now before the Senate after its approval in the lower house, on the basis of an October 2009 decision by the Supreme Court.
That ruling marked the first time Uruguay’s highest tribunal had taken a stand against the amnesty and came in a case brought by a veteran human rights activist seeking justice for Communist Party activist Nibia Sabalsagaray, killed in 1974 by government agents.
The bill’s proponents want Uruguayan courts to consider all international human rights conventions signed by the country to be protected by the constitution, a step that would automatically invalidate the Expiry Law.
Opponents, including former Presidents Julio Maria Sanguinetti and Jorge Batlle, say the bill is an affront to citizens who have upheld the law and an attack on Uruguay’s institutions.
At least three senators with the governing coalition, which controls both houses of Congress, also have expressed opposition to the proposed legislation.
Two “no” votes in the Senate would be enough to derail the bill.
The Expiry Law requires both the executive branch and the Supreme Court to authorize each judicial investigation launched into alleged crimes committed by security force members during the military regime.
No such investigation was launched until the FA’s Tabare Vazquez became president in 2005.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday allows an investigation into a case in which Bordaberry was accused by different human rights groups of responsibility for the deaths of 20 people.
Bordaberry, 81, who ruled as democratically elected president from 1972 to 1973 and later as dictator from 1973 to 1976, was sentenced last year to 30 years in prison for violating the constitution and another 30 years for the extrajudicial killings of 14 people who went missing while he was in office.
Due to poor health, Bordaberry is being allowed to serve his multiple prison sentences under house arrest. EFE