Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 16:28 GMT

Uruguay: Domestic violence, including information on protection and support services available to victims (2007-2010)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 14 January 2011
Citation / Document Symbol URY103622.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Uruguay: Domestic violence, including information on protection and support services available to victims (2007-2010), 14 January 2011, URY103622.E, available at: [accessed 17 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

According to a report by the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women's Rights (Comité de América Latina y el Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer, CLADEM), 20 women and girls were murdered as the result of domestic violence during the first quarter of 2010 (28 June 2010).

A 2010 report by Uruguay's National Observatory on Violence and Crime (Observatorio Nacional Sobre Violencia Y Criminalidad) of the Ministry of Interior (Ministerio del Interior) indicates that, between November 2009 and October 2010, 35 women were murdered and 20 were the victims of attempted murders in domestic violence cases (Uruguay Nov. 2010). The statistics also show that reported cases of domestic violence have been increasing since the Ministry began keeping records in 2005 with a total of 11, 255 cases between January and September 2010 (ibid.).


In 1995, domestic violence officially became a crime when it became part of the penal code (World Bank Apr. 2009, 2; Assistant Professor 30 Nov. 2010). Also, in 1996, Uruguay ratified the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (World Bank Apr. 2009, 2). The Convention of Belém do Pará, as it became known, adopted the definition of gender-based violence provided in the 1993 United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and included "physical, sexual or psychological violence ‘that occurs within the family or domestic unit or within any other interpersonal relationship'" (ibid.).

In 2002, Uruguay passed legislation that addresses the issue of domestic violence with Law No. 17514, which provides measures for the prevention, early detection, treatment and eradication of domestic violence (Uruguay 2002).

In spite of these measures, however, a University of Iowa assistant professor who specializes in Latin American politics, and has given conference presentations on women's issues in Uruguay, claims that the penal code, Law No. 17514, and "the accompanying National Action Plan Against Domestic Violence (2004 - 2010) have been largely rhetorical" (Assistant Professor 30 Nov. 2010). The Assistant Professor explained, in correspondence with the Research Directorate, that the legislation does not clarify "whether sexual crimes committed within the state of matrimony are acts of violence" (ibid.).

Similarly, a lawyer at non-profit Women's Union House (Casa de la Mujer de la Union), a centre in Montevideo, Uruguay, that helps women of all ages achieve their potential (Casa de la Mujer n.d.), said in correspondence with the Research Directorate, that the wording in the penal code does not [translation] "facilitate its application" and does not apply to the majority of domestic violence cases (ibid. 29 Nov. 2010).

State protection

According to Uruguay's report to the UN on its application of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, ratification of the 2002 domestic violence law has led to the development of the following actions:

  1. Creation of four specialized courts in the Department of Montevideo.
  2. Night courts throughout the country to deal with emergency situations.
  3. Creation of the National Advisory Council against Domestic Violence, comprising a representative of the Ministry of Social Development, the National Women's Institute (chair), the judiciary, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Institute for Children and Juveniles, the National Public Education Administration, the Congress of Mayors, and three representatives of civil society from the Uruguayan Network against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
  4. Preparation by the National Advisory Council against Domestic Violence of a National Plan to Combat Domestic Violence 2004-2010, approved by executive decree of 10 June 2004, which is now being implemented with training for operators of the public system, assistance to victims, and mainstreaming the gender focus in government departments.
  5. Establishment of departmental commissions for combating domestic violence in 11 municipal governments; the remaining eight will be installed in the course of 2007.
  6. Training for operators of the public system, with an emphasis on the judicial, police and health systems, headed by the National Women's Institute through the project for "strengthening justice institutions in relation to gender for equitable development."
  7. The National Programme for Women's Health and Gender (PNSMG) of the Ministry of Public Health (MSP) is coordinating efforts to have health authorities, institutions and personnel address domestic violence as a public health problem, using a participatory methodology to develop a protocol for the health teams in dealing with domestic violence. Some of these steps have been taken in coordination with the National Women's Institute.
  8. The MSP has published a manual of procedures for providing first aid to victims of domestic violence.
  9. The MSP is conducting awareness and training activities with health authorities and personnel on dealing with situations of domestic violence against women.
  10. Regulations to the law on domestic violence against women have been issued for the health sector by presidential decree (2006) making it mandatory for health institutions to include services for female victims of domestic violence, consistent with the guidelines in the manual of procedures. With entry into force of that decree, a special form is now used, with questions on the possible existence of domestic violence and guidelines for health personnel, which the health teams are required to apply, adding data to the clinical history of females over the age of 15.
  11. The MSP is providing support and advice to health institutions for implementing legislation on domestic violence.
  12. A plan has been designed for disseminating and implementing legislation through the PNSMG of the MSP. This initiative includes public and private institutions providing health services.
  13. The Ministry of the Interior and the National Women's Institute are coordinating efforts to have police officers deal more effectively with situations of domestic violence and to make this issue a priority in public safety policies. Activities have included a special session on "public safety and domestic violence" involving chiefs and deputies from all the police stations of Montevideo, a survey of the status of specialized units for dealing with domestic violence throughout the country, with priority to recognizing their position within the departmental structure, premises, equipment, number of officers assigned, officer training, regional workshops for managers of the specialized units with the participation of police officers and departmental chiefs, substantial progress in recording statistics on domestic violence from the "Crime Observatory." (Uruguay 21 June 2007, 10-11)

On the other hand, the Assistant Professor maintains that "though a number of positive measures have been put in place," government policies related to domestic violence are still not being fully implemented (Assistant Professor 30 Nov. 2010). For example, "there exists no oversight system, nor a sanctioning system, such that mishandling, or outright ignoring, of the measures receives no state sanction or response" (ibid.). Moreover,

[c]onstant revictimization in the state responses of police, judiciary and health officials combines with very infrequent penalization of major aggressors. Prevention and interdisciplinary diagnostic teams are not actually put in place in most cases of domestic violence; in those cases where the aggressor is punished, it is very infrequent that victims are notified in advance of the aggressor's release from custody, as the law requires. There is almost no state money dedicated to domestic violence, which means that the majority of training for judges, police officials, health and social workers, and the like, comes from the non-profit sector, which is unable to perform this work on the broad scale needed for true eradication of domestic violence …

[T]here is no institutional policy that defines the objectives, responsibilities, and good practices of police personnel, much less supervision of compliance. As a consequence, police management is uneven, depending primarily on the functionaries who happen to be in place at a given time. The number of denouncements received in police headquarters does not equal the number of investigations initiated, reaffirming the point about uneven training and improper handling. Similarly, there is very little coordination between the police and judiciary. In many domestic violence cases the judicial response is very fragmented. In each part of the judicial process, at the emergency level, the family court level, specialty court, and penal court, different judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys are present, making coordination difficult. (ibid.)

According to a report in Human Rights Brief, "a student-run publication at American University Washington College of Law" (Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law n.d.), due to lack of enforcement,

[c]ourt-ordered measures to protect victims are only issued in approximately 6% of cases. Moreover, the majority of perpetrators who violate the court-ordered measures are not subject to legal repercussions. (Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law 29 Oct. 2010)

A regional and local women's organization also report that, under the penal code, domestic violence is not prosecuted as such by the Uruguayan courts, but rather as a crime of assault (CLADEM 28 June 2010; Casa de la Mujer 29 Nov. 2010).

According to a report on Uruguay by a special rapporteur to the UN's Human Rights Council, women who have filed complaints of domestic violence risk being re-victimized by their aggressors due to "a lack of awareness, sensitivity or prejudices on the part of police and judicial personnel" (UN 21 Dec. 2009, 17). As an example, the Human Rights Brief indicates that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) learned of a case where a woman sought judicial protection from a stalker, who was sending her a rose and a written death threat every day (Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law 29 Oct. 2010). She was turned away by the judge, who stated, "‘You are receiving letters and roses everyday---isn't that what women want?'" (ibid.).

According to Susan Franceschet, associate professor of Political Science at the University of Calgary, perpetrators of domestic violence in Latin America are infrequently prosecuted because "most laws place considerable emphasis on keeping families together, rather than punishing abusers with prison sentences" (Jan. 2008). This statement is corroborated by the Assistant Professor, who explained that, in Uruguay, "victims are routinely counseled to simply confront or negotiate with their aggressors to restore domestic tranquility" (30 Nov. 2010).

Support services

According to an article in the Uruguayan newspaper El Pais, there is a telephone hotline that is available to women 24 hours a day and 7 days a week in the capital city, Montevideo (El Pais 23 Mar. 2010).

The CLADEM reports that there are five shelters available to women who are victims of domestic violence, but their priority is women with children and those who are underage (CLADEM 28 June 2010). The CLADEM also states that women who do not fit the priority profile are sometimes [translation] "directed by the system to homeless shelters" (ibid.).

According to the UN's special rapporteur, Uruguay lacks the infrastructure to support women and rehabilitate their agressors in cases of domestic violence (UN 21 Dec. 2009, 17). The Assistant Professor corroborates this by stating that, although there are services available, they are limited because they are primarily based in Montevideo, effectively giving little to no access to women in rural areas (Assistant Professor 30 Nov. 2010). The Assistant Professor elaborated:

[W]hile there is a number of civil society organizations dedicated to the issue of domestic violence, these organizations are small in number, and limited in resource. ... [B]ecause they rely so heavily on donor funding, some of the organizations themselves are quite precarious. Moreover, not all of these organizations work directly with the public. Many are advocacy organizations dedicated to securing greater state monitoring and enforcement of domestic violence legislation. (ibid.)

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Iowa, Iowa City. 30 November 2010. Correspondence.

Casa de la Mujer de la Union, Montevideo, Uruguay. 29 November 2010. Correspondence from a lawyer.

_____. N.d. "Mision." > [Accessed 7 Dec. 2010]

Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, American University Washington College of Law (WCL). 29 October 2010. Ebony Wade. "Femicide and Domestic Violence in Uruguay." Human Rights Brief. [Accessed 22 Nov. 2010]

_____. N.d. "About." [Accessed 7 Dec. 2010]

Comité de América Latina y el Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer (CLADEM). 28 June 2010. "CLADEM Uruguay: Informe MESECVI 2010." [Accessed 22 Nov. 2010]

Franceschet, Susan. January 2008. "The Politics of Domestic Violence Policy in Latin America." Technical Paper No. TP-08001. (University of Calgary) [Accessed 29 Nov. 2010]

El Pais [Montevideo]. 23 March 2010. Déborah Friedmann. "Violencia doméstica: llegan 17 llamadas por día al 0800." [Accessed 25 Nov. 2010]

United Nations (UN). 21 December 2009. Human Rights Council (HRC). Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Uruguay, Manfred Nowak. Addendum. Mission to Uruguay. (HRC/13/39/Add.2) [Accessed 22 Nov. 2010]

Uruguay. November 2010. Ministerio del Interior. "Observatorio Nacional Sobre Violencia Y Criminalidad Uruguay." [Accessed 29 Nov. 2010]

_____. 21 June 2007. Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Combined Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Periodic Reports of States Parties. Uruguay. (CEDAW/C/URY/7) (Official Document System of the United Nations) [Accessed 23 Nov. 2010]

_____. 2002. Ley No. 17.514 Violencia Doméstica. [Accessed 22 Nov. 2010]

World Bank. April 2009. Jonna Lundwall, Teresa Genta Fons and Milena Sanchez de Boado. "Domestic Violence IS a Public Affair." En Breve. No. 141. [Accessed 23 Nov. 2010]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: An associate professor of political science at the Univeristy of Calgary, Alberta was unable to provide information for this Response. Attempts to contact the program coordinator of international litigation at the Committee of Latin America and the Caribbean for the Defense of Women's Rights (CLADEM - Comité de América Latina y el Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer ), and a representative at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) were unsuccessful.

Internet sites, including:, El Commercio [Lima], Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS Surveys), Diario El Pueblo [Arequipa], Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres (Inmujeres) - Uruguay, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Latin American Government Report Archive (LAGRA), La Republica [Montevideo], United Nations (UN) Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) - Refworld, UN Secretary General's database on violence against women.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

Search Refworld