Uruguay scraps 'dirty war' amnesty
Parliament votes to lift amnesty on alleged crimes against humanity committed under military-backed dictatorship.
Last Modified: 27 Oct 2011 20:06
The law, having been passed by parliament, is now subject to scrutiny by the country's Supreme Court [EPA]

Uruguay's parliament has revoked an amnesty for military officials charged with committing human rights abuses during a crackdown on leftists between 1973 and 1985.

The move ends a deal between the country's political left and right that has prevented such prosecutions for more than a quarter of a century.

The lower house of parliament voted 50-40 to eliminate the amnesty on Thursday, following a similar vote in the Senate, the upper house.

Jose Mujica, the country's president, is expected to sign the law before November 1, when, if Congress had not acted, a statute of limitations would have made any new prosecutions for dictatorship-era crimes impossible.

Dozens of suspected leftists were kidnapped and killed during the years of the country's military-backed dictatorship.

The vote means that a demand from human rights groups that people who were involved in the kidnapping, torture and killing of citizens in the name of the state during that time should be punished is now being met.

In May, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights said that Uruguay must not impose limits on probes into past abuses.

"This is a historic night," Luis Puig, a ruling Broad Front coalition legislator, said after the vote. "The culture of impunity imposed during 25 years must be dismantled and turned into a culture of human rights."

The lifting of the amnesty is now subject to supreme court approval. In May, the court ruled that state-sponsored killings committed during the dictatorship should be classified as murders, rather than human rights crimes.

That ruling had imposed the November 1 deadline on any new cases, due to the statute of limitations that murder cases fall under.

Amnesty upheld

Opponents say that the new law is in violation of the constitution and also defies the will of the people, since the military amnesty was upheld during popular referendums in 1989 and 2009.

Some military leaders have said that they will push for former guerrillas to be prosecuted for alleged crimes if the military amnesty was lifted.

President Mujica himself, as well as other leaders of the leftist Tupamaro guerrillas, served long prison sentences for the political violence they encouraged and engaged in during the 1960s and 1970s.

Several dozen guerrillas, however, have remained free, benefiting from a separate amnesty for leftists who committed crimes more than a generation ago.

"With this law that parliament approved, the Broad Front has torn several pages from the national constitution and put itself above the popular will," said Jorge Larranaga, a senator from the conservative opposition National Party.

Despite the amnesty law, some prominent dictatorship figures in Uruguay have been convicted in the past.

Juan Maria Bordaberry, who headed the military government from 1973 to 1976, and Gregorio Alvarez - president from 1981 to 1985 - both received long jail sentences for crimes that were not covered by the amnesty.

Bordaberry died earlier this year.

Argentina vote

The vote came just hours after a court in neighbouring Argentina sentenced a former navy spy , known as "the Angel of Death", and 11 other former Argentine military and police officers, to life in prison for crimes against humanity.

Those crimes were committed during Argentina's 1976-83 military dictatorship.

Alfredo Astiz, a 59-year-old ex-navy captain, became notorious for his infiltration and betrayal of activists and was viewed by many Argentines as the symbol of the junta's crimes.

He was accused of participating in the kidnapping, torture and murder of two French nuns, a journalist and three founders of a human rights group.

The crimes alleged against all the defendants included 86 cases of kidnapping, torture and murder of leftist dissidents committed at the Navy Mechanics School, one of the military junta's principal torture centers used to crush the threat of armed revolution.

Four other defendants in the Argentine case were sentenced to between 18 and 25 years in prison, while two were absolved of any wrongdoing.

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