Covering events from January - December 2002

Head of state and government: Jorge Batlle
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
International Criminal Court: ratified

The vast majority of past human rights violations remained unresolved. There were disturbances in Libertad prison by inmates demanding better conditions.


In July the economic crisis, which had hit other countries in the region, forced the authorities to close financial institutions for almost a week. Protesters took to the streets and ransacked supermarkets and other stores during the first week of August. The threat of financial collapse prompted the USA to provide an emergency loan to the country until a new loan package from the International Monetary Fund could be approved.

Prison conditions

In March, prisoners at Libertad prison in the department of San José, 50 km from the capital Montevideo, staged riots demanding better access to healthcare and work and complaining about overcrowding and ill-treatment by prison guards. The authorities responded by cutting electricity and water supplies as well as food to the prison. Following the protests some prisoners were transferred to other prisons. Human rights organizations stated that following the riots, four prisoners were found dead in the Libertad prison and one at the COMCAR (Complejo Carcelario Santiago Vázquez) prison. The authorities allegedly said that some of the dead had committed suicide and other deaths were the result of prisoners "settling scores" among themselves. By April a total of 12 inmates had reportedly been found dead in various prisons around the country.

Past human rights violations

  • In March an Argentine judge confirmed that a young man, now aged 25, who had been adopted as a baby by an Argentine family was Simón Riquelo, the son of Sara Méndez, a Uruguayan refugee living in Argentina who was arrested in 1976 in Argentina by the Uruguayan military in the context of "Operation Cóndor". The forces of several military governments in South America had been involved in "Operation Cóndor" during the 1970s. Sara Méndez had been looking for her son for more than 20 years.
  • A former Minister of Foreign Affairs was charged with the unlawful imprisonment of Elena Quinteros Almeida who "disappeared" in 1976 after having been forcibly taken from the Venezuelan Embassy in Uruguay were she had taken refuge. He was remanded in custody awaiting trial at the end of the year. This was the first time anyone had been detained for human rights violations committed during military rule.
  • A Chilean judge indicted six current and retired army officers in October for the killing of Eugenio Berríos, a former Chilean military agent who "disappeared" in Uruguay in 1992 and whose body was found in 1995 on a beach near Montevideo. The Chilean judge stated that throughout the investigation the Uruguayan judicial system had obstructed her investigation.
In October the Peace Commission, established in August 2000 to clarify the fate of Uruguayans who "disappeared" between 1973 and 1985, stated in a preliminary report presented to the President and to the public that, according to its findings, 26 political prisoners had died as a result of being tortured in Uruguay and 13 others in Argentina. The Commission also stated that it believed that a further 41 Uruguayan political prisoners had also suffered the same fate in Argentina. However, there were concerns that the Commission had not shed any light on the whereabouts of the remains of those believed to have been killed during that period. Human rights defenders stated that until the remains were found the victims would continue to be considered as "disappeared", even if the Commission established that they were killed. They also urged the Commission to ensure that the information they had gathered was transferred to the judicial authorities so that those responsible for these grave human rights abuses could be brought to justice.

This 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.