Monday, February 25, 2013

Uruguay’s Supreme Court Reinstates Amnesty for Dictatorship-Era Abuses

In a setback for transitional justice in Uruguay, the country’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the 2011 law which lifted the amnesty for officers in the 1975-1983 military dictatorship was unconstitutional. As El Pais reports, this effectively blocks dozens of human rights cases from proceeding in court.

The ruling fits with previous Supreme Court decisions on the issue. The Court has maintained that the tortures, killings and disappearances committed by the dictatorship were common crimes, not crimes against humanity; therefore the amnesty doesn’t violate Uruguay’s commitments under international law.

While it is in keeping with the Court’s previous stance, the ruling still comes as somewhat of a surprise. The repeal of the amnesty law was the result of a decades-long campaign and several failed attempts in the legislature. When it was passed in October 2011, it was widely praised as a step forward in the fight against impunity for dictatorship-era rights abuses.

Although a handful of high-level dictatorship officials -- like former President Juan Maria Bordaberry and ex-General Gregorio Conrado Alvarez -- saw trials for abuses in spite of the amnesty, the law’s repeal was seen as a sign that the country was finally ready to fully challenge the influence of its military elites.  

But Friday’s ruling suggests that despite the progress Uruguay has made since its 1983 return to democracy, the country is not yet ready to fully challenge the influence of its military elites.

This is not the first time that the Court has signaled this in recent weeks. On February 13, it ordered the transfer of Judge Mariana Mota from her position at the forefront of a high-profile investigation of dictatorship-era abuses to a civil tribunal in Montevideo. The Supreme Court insisted that the transfer was a procedural matter, but it is widely believed to have been the result of pressure from the military. As a result of Mota’s transfer, and of the effective reinstatement of amnesty, it is doubtful that the 55 human rights cases that Mota was overseeing will move forward.

The ruling Broad Front coalition has criticized the decision, and called on the Court to appear before Congress to explain itself, which the justices have declined to do. In response, President Jose Mujica’s party, the Popular Participation Movement (MPP), has announced that it will seek to organize the impeachment of the Court, obligating them to testify in person on the issue.

As El Pais notes, however, an impeachment of the Court is unlikely as it requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which the Broad Front does not have. As such, it looks as though the amnesty’s repeal will go unchallenged.

News Briefs
  • Cuba’s parliament granted a new five-year term to President Raul Castro on Sunday, which the leader said would be his last. As the New York Times notes, Castro also announced his intention to establish term limits and age limits for political positions, including the presidency. Some of these changes, the president said, would be implemented through referendums. Another surprise yesterday was Castro’s appointment of 52-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez as his vice president. As Cuban Triangle points out, this is the first time that a next-generation figure in the Cuban government has held the position, and suggests Diaz-Canel has been chosen as a successor to Castro in 2018. The AP offers an interesting profile of Diaz-Canel, portraying him as an uncharismatic party loyalist whose political profile has risen under Raul’s close watch.
  • Another result of Cuba’s parliamentary session yesterday was the appointment of Esteban Lazo as head of the National Assembly. Lazo replaces Ricardo Alarcon, who led the legislative body for 20 years and was regarded as a point man for overseeing U.S.-Cuban relations. According to BBC Mundo, Lazo is a top leader of the Communist Party, and a member of its Secretariat.
  • Newly-unclassified documents obtained by the National Security Archive show that Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was in favor of using military force to defy the October 1988 referendum which ended his rule.  The documents also show that U.S. military and State Department officials supported the campaign against Pinochet.
  • Peruvian photojournalist Luis Choy, who worked for the popular daily El Comercio, was shot and killed in Lima on Saturday. According to La Republica, police have ruled out theft as a motive for the crime, but no other potential motives have been released. The AFP links the murder to rising crime and insecurity in the country, which the government responded to by ordering a large-scale shakeup of the national police force last week.
  • Colombia’s Semana magazine has an interview with Ivan Marquez, the head of the negotiating team of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Havana. Despite the rising public skepticism of the peace talks in Colombia, Marquez claims that the guerrillas and government have put together “at least two or more pages” of a preliminary peace accord.
  • La Silla Vacia takes a look at the state of the ruling Social Party of National Unity, also known as the “U Party.” The party’s internal divisions, including the highly public spat between President Juan Manuel Santos and former president Alvaro Uribe, are growing deeper and more problematic. The news site argues that the many issues facing the party have put it on a course towards “a nervous breakdown.”
  • Writing for Colombia Reports, freelance journalist Charles Parkinson describes a wave of gruesome violence which hit Medellin’s troubled Comuna 13 neighborhood last week. The district is a hub of gang activity and drug dealing, and the recent murders illustrate the challenges the city faces as it struggles to address poverty and change its violent image.
  • Although the Mexican government responded to the release of a Human Rights Watch report on forced disappearances by saying it is working on expanding a list of 27,000 disappeared people into a national registry, former security spokesman Jose Oscar Vega Marin has denied that the list exists. As the AP and El Informador report, Vega said that the previous administration had no system in place to construct information about victims of disappearances. The only data that officials have, according to Vega, is a list of some 5,000 people believed to have been disappeared.
  • The five commissioners of Mexico’s much lauded public transparency agency, the Institute of Access to Information and Protection of Data (IFAI), are slated to testify before the Mexican Senate today over allegations of mismanagement, El Universal reports. Congress is considering a bill which would dismiss and replace the IFAI commissioners, which some oppose on the grounds that it would damage the IFAI’s impartiality.
  • In spite of indications last week that Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman may have been killed in a shootout in Guatemala, the reports proved to be unfounded. Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla announced over the weekend that the rumors, which he helped fuel, were due to a “misunderstanding.”

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