On December 10, the United Nations will mark the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. This commemoration gives a special meaning to the U.N. General Assembly session that opened on September 7.

For Uruguay this year's session of the U.N. General Assembly is even more relevant as our Foreign Minister, Mr. Didier Opertti, has been appointed to chair the meeting. An appointment such as this brings recognition for Uruguay and it should be an hon or for all Uruguayan men and women because it entails the assumption that human rights are respected in our country. However, the debt that the Uruguayan State still owes to the society and the international community regarding human rights compels us to point that, should this debt not be satisfied in full, the U.N. General Assembly chairmanship will be exercised in contrast with the organization's high principles.

In Uruguay, the State bears a debt with the families of people who were detained and disappeared under the military dictatorship, and with society as a whole.

The 1986 Ley de Caducidad de la Pretensión Punitiva del Estado (a law that canceled the State's punitive right concerning a particular list of crimes), ratified by referendum in 1989, firmly established the impunity for those responsible for crimes ag ainst humankind. This piece of legislation was repudiated in 1992 by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission - a branch of the Organization of American States - and in March 1989 and April 1998 by the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Both commissions deem ed the Uruguayan law incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Treaty on Civil and Political Rights, both pacts signed and ratified by Uruguay.

Article 4 of the 1986 law, however, established the Executive Branch's obligation to investigate the fate of the disappeared persons. The Uruguayan government did not abide by the rules, and referred the inquiry to two military prosecutors - colonels José Sambucetti and Nelson Corbo, themselves accused of human rights violations and members of the same organization that provided a cover of legitimation to political repression during the dictatorial regime. The military's investigation, of course, did not arrive to any substantial finding and only asserted that there were no evidences about the military's involvement in crimes against humankind.

Thus, the Executive Branch protected and legitimized impunity on several ocassions, obstructing every effort to determine the fate of the disappeared persons, among them several minors kidnapped when their parents were ilegally arrested, and denying a final answer to the families that, still today, keep pleading for information.

The 1984 Inter-American Convention Against the Disappearance of Persons, also ratified by Uruguay in 1995, states that the crime of forced disappearance continues - without a statute of limitations - "until the whereabouts or the fate of the victim is determined."

When impunity was made into law, the Uruguayan society was deprived of a real chance to know the truth about what had happened under military rule. In contrast with neighboring countries, Uruguay never had a "truth commission" by the way of an officia l and public investigation of those events, and never the State acknowledged its own responsibility in crimes for which Uruguayan military officers have been prosecuted in Argentina and Paraguay.

Impunity has not only violated what the U.N. Human Rights Special Rapporter Louis Joinet has called "the collective right to know the truth" denying Uruguayans the opportunity to know their own history, but has also given way for official statements t hat further hinder the efforts to know the truth and offend the moral conscience of the Uruguayan people.

It was Justice Joinet who said that "as a counterpart to the collective right to know, the State has a 'duty to remember' in order to protect itself against those distortions of history known as revisionism and denial."

But, in Uruguay, military officers accused of egregious abuses keep receiving promotions which are approved by the Senate: earlier this year, Jorge Silveira, a well known torturer involved in the disappearance of a number of people and in the coordina tion of repressive operations in the Southern Cone, was appointed a direct assistant to the Army's Commander-in-Chief. The military brass continues to vindicate in public the State terror implemented between 1973 and 1984. These actions provide legitimac y to a version of our history based upon the National Security Doctrine according to which all political adversaries or dissidents were enemies who had to be liquidated, and all crimes against humankind committed were nothing more than acts of war.

In contrast with the official story and denials, in Uruguay there has been a growing public opinion awareness and a consensus in demanding a final and clear response about the fate of the disappeared persons in compliance with Article 4 of the 1986 la w, and a full compliance with the international obligations the Uruguayan State has under current conventions and treaties.

Representatives from all sectors of society - civil society groups, religious leaders and organizations, politicians, cultural figures – have joined in this demand that has unquestionable ethical, political and historical impact.

However, the Executive Branch's response has always been the same: an obstinate and reiterated silence nurtured in indifference and lack of compassion.

For all this we say that Uruguay's leadership role in the U.N. General Assembly is not isolated from the situation in Uruguay. Over many years, the Uruguayan government has used double speech in these matters: beyond the nation's borders the governmen t speaks about its commitment to every human rights convention and pact - this is exactly what Foreign Minister Didier Operttti did at the opening session on September 7, while the Government disregards even the basic plea on humanitarian grounds and dism isses the feelings of most Uruguayans.

We believe that, now that Uruguay occupies the U.N. General Assembly presidency, the government has an obligation to pay the debt it has with the Uruguayan people and to provide the families and all Uruguayans the answers they demand. Otherwise, the U ruguayan chairmanship and the Assembly itself will lack the dignity to which they are entitled.

We address the international community to request support in our campaign to demand from the Uruguayan government a thorough investigation, and a public report on the fate of the disappeared, taking upon itself all the responsibility it must account f or the crimes that were committed during the military dictatorship.


Madres y Familiares de Uruguayos Detenidos- Desaparecidos.
PIT/CNT (Plenario Intersindical de Trabajadores/Convención Nacional de Trabajadores).
SERPAJ (Servicio de Paz y Justicia)
FUCVAM (Federación Uruguaya de Cooperativas de Ayuda Mutua).
ASU (Acción Sindical Uruguaya)
FEUU (Federación de Estudiantes Universitarios del Uruguay).
ITM (Instituto del Tercer Mundo)
IDH (Instituto del Hombre)
CIPFE (Centro de Investigación y Promoción Franciscano y Ecológico)

We ask you to send messages to:

Presidente de la Republica Julio Ma. Sanguinetti
Edificio Libertad
Montevideo, Uruguay
Fax: (+598.2) 480 9397
Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores
Secretaria General
Palacio Santos
Montevideo, Uruguay
Fax: (+598.2) 902 1349
Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores Dr. Didier Opertti
Presidente de la Asamblea General
de Naciones Unidas
Mision de Uruguay en Naciones Unidas
New York
Fax: (+1.212) 593 0935

We will also appreciate that you send copies of your letters to:

Secretaría de Derechos Humanos PIT/CNT

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