Date: Mon, 23 Nov 1998 17:35:46 -0600 (CST)
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: URUGUAY: Civilian Court Ends Silence on 'Disappearances'
Article: 48415
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

/** ips.english: 534.0 **/
** Topic: RIGHTS-URUGUAY: Civilian Court Ends Silence on 'Disappearances' **
** Written 3:08 PM Nov 22, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

Civilian Court Ends Silence on ‘Disappearances’

By Raul Ronzoni, IPS, 19 November 1998

MONTEVIDEO, Nov 19 (IPS)—A civilian court in Uruguay put an end to the official silence on people forcibly disappeared during the 1973-85 de facto military regime, with a recent ruling that ordered the state to indemnify a woman whose father disappeared.

Another recent verdict handed down by the same judge ordered the state to pay indemnification to nine victims of torture and the families of three deceased torture victims.

Since the enactment of a law in 1989 that closed all criminal legal proceedings against military and police agents accused of human rights violations, all attempts to get the state to investigate the disappearance of opponents of the dictatorship have been futile.

Although the amnesty was passed in 1985, it was only enacted after a long process that included an Apr. 16, 1989 referendum, in which the law was ratified by 60 percent of voters.

Since then, several rights groups and political sectors as well as the Catholic Church have insisted on finding out the truth about the final fate of 22 people 'disappeared' in this Southern Cone country after being detained by the police and military.

And although the 1989 amnesty law authorised the executive branch to investigate the disappearances, no government has ever done so.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the de facto military regimes ruling the countries of the Southern Cone of the Americas cracked down on opposition in a coordinated manner through what later became known as Operation Condor. Thus, Uruguayans were also killed and 'disappeared' in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Chile.

With the route to justice through criminal courts closed, several victims or family members of victims of torture and abductions filed charges against the state in civilian courts, and were recently awarded indemnifications.

The state would have to shell out more than three million dollars to settle some 20 trials currently underway, and meet claimants' demands.

But on Nov. 13, Judge Estela Jubette came down in favour of the daughter of a disappeared victim, and ordered the Defence Ministry to pay her 100,000 dollars for moral damages. The case involved the disappearance of her father, Oscar Balinas, the son of retired general Arturo Balinas, one of the founders—in 1971—of the leftist Broad Front coalition.

The ruling drew back the mantle of silence covering the military's involvement in forced disappearances by clearly establishing that Balinas was illegitimately apprehended, forcibly disappeared and killed, and that his remains were hidden.

The judge said witness testimony fully proved that Balinas was tortured to death, and that the state, through the executive branch, failed to truly and properly comply with the law in clarifying his disappearance.

The executive branch, according to the ruling, has not collaborated with the courts in the least to verify what we are endeavouring to find out.

The ruling is the first development to shed light on the question of the disappeared since the return to democracy in March 1985, and analysts say it paves the way for new lawsuits.

An earlier ruling handed down by Judge Jubette on Oct. 22 ordered the Defence Ministry, along with the state National Administration of Ports, to pay 1.3 million dollars in compensation to nine workers submitted to torture and three families of deceased torture victims.

One of the victims, Omar Rodriguez, died in an army barracks as a consequence of blows he received during three days of interrogations, the decision states.

His death averted other deaths, because from then on, the rest of the detainees were attended by doctors, said Jubette. She stated that the existence of the illicit detention by military functionaries, who submitted the detainees to diverse forms of torture, was conclusively proven.

Spokespersons for the state entities ordered to pay indemnification announced that the rulings would be appealed.

The verdicts coincided with a Nov. 12 call by the Episcopal Conference of Uruguay urging the candidates who will run for office in the October 1999 presidential elections to give special attention to problems...affecting human rights. The bishops called for reliable information on what happened to the disappeared.