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Title:  Uruguay Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State
Date:  March 1996


Uruguay is a constitutional republic with an elected president, a 
bicameral legislature, and an independent judicial branch.  In November 
1994 former President Julio Maria Sanguinetti won a narrow election 
victory.  He began his 5-year term in March.

The Interior Ministry administers the country's police departments and 
the prison system and is responsible for domestic security and public 
safety.  The principal human rights problems continued to be police 
abuse and mistreatment of prisoners.

The economy comprises a mixture of private enterprises and state 
entities and is heavily dependent on agricultural exports and 
agroindustry.  Private property rights are respected.  The economy grew 
by an estimated 1 percent in 1995; annual per capita gross domestic 
product was approximately $5,600.

Prison conditions remain poor, and professionalism in police ranks 
remained weak.  Court cases often take many years, and failure to 
adjudicate cases expeditiously contributed to human rights problems in 
several areas.  A Public Security Law passed in July addressed a number 
of these issues.  Implementation of the law, however, could face 
institutional delays.  Discrimination against women continued, and no 
steps were taken to address the discrimination faced by the black 


Section 1   Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 

   a.   Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

   b.   Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

   c.   Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or 

The Constitution prohibits brutal treatment of prisoners, but police and 
prison guards continue to commit such abuses.  The judicial and 
parliamentary branches of government are responsible for investigating 
specific allegations of abuse.  However, law enforcement officials are 
seldom convicted and punished for such abuse.  In August 1994, 1 person 
was killed and approximately 100 injured (3 seriously) when a 
demonstration turned into a riot.  The investigation of police 
misconduct during this incident is still underway; in May four police 
officials were charged with failure to exercise proper responsibility.  
These policemen remain on active duty while the investigation continues.  
The 1994 case of a mentally disabled person who committed suicide after 
police abuse remains unresolved.

Police officers have been charged in other instances.  In one week in 
January, eight police officers were charged for various crimes.  Figures 
released in October by the Interior Ministry show that a large number of 
police officers currently on active duty have been charged with crimes.  
Other officials charged with crimes also continue to perform their 
duties while their cases are pending before the slow-moving judicial 
system.  The new Law on Public Security calls for improved police 
training and requires that police officers be instructed and directed in 
their conduct in accordance with United Nations codes regarding the use 
of force.

Conditions in prisons and juvenile detention facilities remain poor but 
not life threatening.  As part of the new Law on Public Security, a 
commission was formed in September to study prison conditions and update 
legislation on penal institutions to bring them into compliance with 
international standards.  The commission will also propose improvements 
in work, vocational training, and rehabilitation of prisoners.  The 
Government permits visits by human rights monitors.

   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution requires the police to have a written warrant issued by 
a judge before making an arrest.  The only exception is when the accused 
is apprehended during commission of a crime.  The Constitution also 
provides the accused with the right to a judicial determination of the 
legality of detention and requires that the detaining authority explain 
the legal grounds for the detention.  Police may hold a detainee 
incommunicado for 24 hours before presenting the case to a judge, at 
which time the detainee has the right to counsel.  It is during this 24-
hour period that abuse of prisoners sometimes takes place, often 
resulting in forced confessions.

If the detainee cannot afford a lawyer, the courts appoint a public 
defender.  If the crime carries a penalty of at least 2 years in prison, 
the accused person is confined during the judge's investigation of the 
charges unless the authorities agree to release the person on bail.  
Approximately 85 percent of all persons currently incarcerated are 
awaiting a final decision in their case.  Because of the slowness of the 
judicial process, the length of time prisoners spend in jail before 
being sentenced may exceed the maximum sentence for their crime.  Human 
rights groups claim that the uncertainty as to how long one will be 
imprisoned is a factor in the tense situation that exists in the 
country's prisons.

The Government does not use forced exile as a means of punishment.

   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the 
Government respects this provision in practice.  The judiciary is headed 
by a Supreme Court which supervises the work of the lower courts.  There 
is a parallel military court system that operates under a military 
justice code.  Two military justices sit on the Supreme Court but 
participate only in cases involving the military.  Military justice 
applies to civilians only during a state of war or insurrection.

Trial proceedings are usually based on written arguments to the judge, 
which are not routinely made public.  Only the prosecutor and defense 
attorney have access to all documents that form part of the written 
record.  Oral argument was introduced in 1990, but is only used at the 
option of individual judges.  Most judges have chosen to retain the 
written method, which is a major factor in the slowness of the judicial 
process.  There is no legal provision against self- incrimination, and 
judges may compel defendants to answer any questions they pose.  The 
defense attorney or prosecutor may appeal convictions to a higher court, 
which may acquit the person of the crime, confirm the conviction, or 
reduce or increase the sentence.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

   f.   Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 

The Constitution provides for the right to privacy, and the Government 
generally respects constitutional provisions and safeguards in practice.

Section 2   Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

   a.   Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, but the 
authorities may abridge these rights if persons are deemed to be 
inciting violence or "insulting the nation."

All elements of the political spectrum freely express their viewpoints 
in both the print and broadcast media.  Montevideo alone has 8 daily 
newspapers and 6 important weeklies; there are also approximately 100 
weekly and a few daily newspapers throughout the country.  Montevideo 
has one government-affiliated and three commercial television stations.  
There are about 110 radio stations and 20 television stations in the 

A 1989 law stipulates that expression and communication of thoughts and 
opinions are free, within the limits contained in the Constitution and 
the law, and outlines methods of responding to "inexact or aggravating 
information."  The law calls for 3 months' to 2 years' imprisonment for 
"knowingly divulging false news that causes a grave disturbance to the 
public peace or a grave prejudice to economic interest of the State" or 
for "insulting the nation, the State, or their powers."  The authorities 
use this law intermittently to set and enforce certain limits on freedom 
of the press.

A radio station that was closed by government decree after an August 
1994 riot remains closed, but specific charges have not yet been brought 
against the station or its owners.

The national university is autonomous, and the authorities generally 
respect academic freedom.

   b.   Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in 

   c.   Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government 
respects this right in practice.

   d.   Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects 
them in practice.  The Government cooperates with the United Nations 
High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in 
assisting refugees.  There were no reports of forced expulsion of those 
having a valid claim to refugee status.

Section 3   Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government

Citizens have the right and ability peacefully to change their 
government.  Uruguay is a multiparty democracy with mandatory universal 
suffrage for those 18 years of age or older and no restrictions 
regarding race, sex, religion, or economic status.  The Colorado Party, 
the National (Blanco) Party, and the Broad Front coalition are the three 
major political groupings.  Each allows ideological divisions within the 
party, and each such grouping may field its own slate of candidates in 
general elections.  A party therefore may run multiple presidential 
candidates, each with his or her own slate of legislative candidates.  
In essence, voters express a preference for a party slate or list of 
candidates rather than for a single standard-bearer.  The party that 
receives the most overall votes fills the presidency, and seats in the 
Senate and Chamber of Deputies are apportioned according to the 
percentage of votes that a party receives.

Women and blacks face de facto impediments to their participation in 
politics and their employment in government.  Only 1 of the 12 cabinet 
ministers is a woman.  The Legislature which was installed in February 
has two female senators (the first since 1973) and six female deputies.  
The small black minority is not represented in the Cabinet or 

Section 4   Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of human rights groups operate without government restriction, 
investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.  
Government officials are generally cooperative and responsive to their 

Section 5   Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status

The Constitution and the law prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, 
religion, or disability.  Despite these provisions, de facto 
discrimination exists.


Women enjoy equality under the law but face discrimination stemming from 
traditional attitudes and practices.

Violence against women continues to be a serious problem.  In 1995 the 
number of reported cases of family violence doubled, reflecting 
increased public awareness resulting from private organizations focusing 
attention on the problem.  A woman's ability to file and sustain a 
complaint often depends on the attitude of the judge.  Police and judges 
lack special training to deal with crimes against women.

The new Public Security Law provides for sentences from 6 months
to 2 years in prison for a person found guilty of committing an act of 
violence or of making continuing threats to cause bodily injury to 
persons related emotionally or legally to the perpetrator.

The work force remains segregated by gender; women, who make up almost 
one-half the work force, tend to be concentrated in lower paying jobs.  
One-half the students entering universities are women, and they often 
pursue professional careers but are underrepresented in traditionally 
male professions.


The Government is generally committed to protecting children's rights 
and welfare, and there are no patterns of societal abuse.  The 
Government has made educational reform a high priority although it has 
not yet developed legislation to implement its objectives.  An Institute 
in the Ministry of Interior oversees implementation of the Government's 
programs for children.  However, limited funding is provided for 
children's programs, and many of the Institute's personnel are not 
trained to deal with the problems of minors.  Miguelette, the country's 
largest and most problematic detention facility for minors, is currently 
being used almost exclusively for processing; there are few minors 
housed there on a permanent basis.

The most controversial provision of the new Public Security Law would 
allow minors with a record of violent crimes to be housed in adult 
prisons.  Human rights groups adamantly oppose this provision, even 
though the law stipulates that minors would be housed in separate 
facilities within the prisons.

   People With Disabilities

The legislature passed a law covering the rights of the disabled in 
1989, but the Government has not yet implemented it.  It does not 
mandate accessibility to existing buildings or public services for 
people with disabilities; new public buildings will be required to have 
such access.  The law is mostly declarative and fails to stipulate 
specific remedial provisions or sanctions for not complying with its 
measures.  The law requires that 4 percent of public sector jobs be 
reserved for the disabled.

   National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country's black minority, approximately 6 percent of the population, 
continues to face discrimination.  A 1993 report put the number of black 
university graduates at 65, and black professionals at fewer than 50.  
Blacks are practically unrepresented in the bureaucratic, political, and 
academic sectors of society.  They lack the educational opportunities 
and social and political connections necessary for entry into these 
groups.  In a February public opinion poll, more than three-quarters of 
the persons interviewed admitted that racial prejudice exists, and two-
thirds of them named blacks as the group which faces the most 
discrimination.  While discrimination against blacks is not official, 
the Government has not taken effective steps to deal with this problem.

Section 6   Worker Rights

   a.   The Right of Association

The Constitution states that laws should promote the organization of 
trade unions and the creation of arbitration bodies.  In spite of this 
provision, there is almost no legislation concerning union activities.  
Unions traditionally organize and operate freely without government 
regulation.  Civil servants, employees of state-run enterprises, and 
private enterprise workers may join unions.  An estimated 12 percent of 
the work force is unionized.  Labor unions are independent of political 
party control but have traditionally been more closely associated with 
the Broad Front, the leftist political coalition.

The Constitution provides workers with the right to strike, and there 
were several strikes during the year.  The Government may legally compel 
workers to work during a strike if they perform an essential service 
whose interruption "could cause a grave prejudice or risk, provoking 
suffering to part or all of the society."

While no institutionalized mechanism exists for resolving workers' 
complaints against employers, the law generally prohibits discriminatory 
acts by employers, including arbitrary dismissals for union activity.  
There are no restrictions on the right of unions to form confederations 
or affiliate with international trade union groups.  However, the one 
national confederation has chosen not to affiliate officially with any 
of the world federations.  Some individual unions are affiliated with 
international trade secretariats.

   b.   The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining between companies and their unions determine most 
private sector salaries.  The executive branch, acting independently or 
through tripartite salary councils, determines public sector salaries.

There are no laws prohibiting antiunion discrimination; however, a 1993 
executive decree established fines for employers engaging in antiunion 
activities.  The law does not require employers to reinstate workers 
fired for union activities.  However, in cases of legal challenges by 
union activists, courts tend to set indemnization levels that are higher 
than the normal payment for dismissed workers.

Union members' claims of discrimination increased during the year.  The 
Ministry of Labor reported that it had handled 19 cases.  In some of the 
cases, employers agreed to reinstate workers; other cases remained 
unresolved at year's end.

All labor legislation fully covers workers employed in special export 
zones.  There are no unions in any of these zones, but there are 
relatively few workers in traditionally organizable occupations.

   c.   Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there is no 
evidence of its existence.

   d.   Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Child Labor Code protects children; the Ministry of Labor and Social 
Security is responsible for enforcing the laws and illegal child labor 
is not a problem.  The law generally does not permit children under 15 
years of age to work, but 12-year-olds may be employed if they have a 
special permit.  Children under the age of 18 may not perform dangerous, 
fatiguing, or night work.  Controls over salaries and hours for children 
are more strict than those for adults.  Children over the age of 16 may 
sue in court for payment of wages, and children have the legal right to 
dispose of their own income.  However, many children work as street 
vendors in the expanding informal sector or in the agrarian sector, 
which are generally less strictly regulated and where pay is lower.

   e.   Acceptable Conditions of Work

A legislated minimum monthly wage is in effect in both the public and 
private sectors, and is effectively enforced by the Ministry of Labor.  
The minimum wage is adjusted whenever public sector wages are adjusted, 
usually once every 4 months.  The minimum wage, which was about $95 (625 
pesos) per month, functions more as an index for calculating wage rates 
than as a true measure of minimum subsistence levels, and it would not 
provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family.

The standard workweek is 48 hours in industry and 44 hours in commerce, 
with a 36-hour break each week.  The law stipulates that industrial 
workers receive overtime compensation for work in excess of 48 hours and 
establishes their right to 20 days of paid vacation after a year of 

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security enforces legislation 
regulating health and safety conditions in a generally effective manner.  
However, some of the regulations cover urban industrial workers more 
adequately than rural and agricultural workers.  Workers have the right 
to remove themselves from what they consider hazardous or dangerous 


[end of document]


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