Inter-American Court of Human Rights says Uruguay must investigate and punish dictatorship crimes

The Gelman case is emblematic of the crimes against humanity perpetrated under Operation Condor in the 1970´s

Washington D.C and Buenos Aires, March 24, 2011- Late last night, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a ruling condemning Uruguay for the forced disappearance of Maria Claudia García Iruretagoyena de Gelman and the birth in captivity of her daughter during the mid 1970’s. The events took place under Operation Condor, a mutual cooperation agreement between the dictatorships of Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay to eliminate those regarded as political dissidents. The ruling renders the 1986 law, known as the Ley de la Caducidad de la Pretensión Punitiva del Estado, ineffective and therefore opens up the possibility for the punishment of crimes against humanity committed under the military dictatorship in Uruguay (1973-1985). The ruling is binding as Uruguay is a signatory of the American Convention on Human Rights and recognizes the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court.
Maria Claudia García Iruretagoyena was abducted in Buenos Aires (Argentina) in 1976.  She was seven months pregnant when she was transferred to a clandestine detention center in Uruguay, where she gave birth to a girl, Macarena. Maria Claudia was later the victim of forced disappearance and her remains were never found. In 1999, Macarena’s grandfather, renowned argentine poet Juan Gelman, tracked down his granddaughter by his own means after more than 20 years.
“This sentence is paradigmatic for Uruguay as it means the end of a law that has stood in the way of truth and justice for 25 years. It represents a victory for the victims, their families and a large part of Uruguayan society that has tirelessly sought to challenge a law resulting from a political agreement and guaranteeing impunity to the perpetrators of crimes against humanity. For Juan and María Macarena Gelman, this is the starting point in their quest for truth and the easing of their pain”, said Ariela Peralta, Deputy Director of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and lawyer for the case.
This is the first case against Uruguay to reach the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. CEJIL brought the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in May 2006. In January 2010 the case was submitted to the Court after Uruguay refused to follow recommendations issued by the IACHR.
Although the Uruguayan Government has used the 1989 referendum as a reason for maintaining the law, Uruguay can no longer refer to domestic law as a pretext for not complying with its international obligations. In words of Liliana Tojo, CEJIL´s Program Director for Bolivia and the Southern Cone: “The Court has finally dictated that Uruguay cannot continue to seek excuses for maintaining impunity for the victims of torture and other horrendous crimes.”
In addition, the judgment clearly states that investigations regarding the forced disappearance of Maria Claudia must be pursued with a view to locating her remains and bringing the perpetrators to justice. According to the Court, Uruguay must also establish criminal and administrative responsibility in accordance with International Law.
The Court ordered a series of reparations which include for Uruguay to adopt a series of policies to ensure integral reparation for the victims as well as a public apology for the crimes committed.
This case not only illustrates the scope of Operation Condor, but also the impunity that developed in Uruguay and is still in place today. Viviana Krsticevic, CEJIL´s Executive Director  said that “Today we celebrate the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims with an outstanding judgment from  the Inter- American Court of Human Rights which will contribute to re-writing the history of Uruguay. Uruguay must now face the challenge that other countries in the region have overcome in the name of truth, justice and reparations for the victims of recent human rights violations, such as Chile, Peru and Argentina.”
The Court´s ruling is available here in Spanish:
Previous press releases in English on this case:

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Milli Legrain
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