Uruguayan Vice-president Danilo Astori acknowledged that overturning the “Expired Crimes” or amnesty bill for human rights violators during the military dictatorship (1973/1985) could cost the ruling coalition ‘dearly’ and said he voted following ‘party discipline’.
Astori anticipates that overturning a bill that was twice confirmed in plebiscites (1989 and 2009) would have a most negative impact on the administration of President Jose Mujica. He insisted he did not share the path chosen by the ruling Broad Front to annul the controversial bill.
The bill dating back to 1986 declared an amnesty for all human rights violations committed by military and police forces under the dictatorship, and was a matching bill to the amnesty approved for the urban guerrillas and supporters --involved in blood crimes, torture or kidnapping-- on February/March 1985 when Uruguay first elected parliament since 1971 convened.
The bill was overturned October 2010 in the Lower House on strict party lines, later in the Senate with modifications and thus must again be considered. However the controversial bill has deeply divided the ruling coalition.
If the bill is finally sanctioned former military and police officers will have to face charges for alleged human rights abuses committed more than thirty years ago.
The disciplinary decision to vote in support of the annulment caused the resignation of Senator Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro, a close advisor of President Mujica from the time they were both involved in urban guerrilla actions, and a second Senator Jorge Saravia, who voted against overturning the bill faces disciplinary action and could be expelled from the coalition.
On a tight vote and during a session full of recriminations, the Senate supported the annulment of the bill April 12 but triggering a serious internal rift. The Lower House is scheduled to take a second vote May 20, but negotiations are ongoing.
President Mujica has said he will not veto the bill although he is against the proposal of overturning the Expired crimes law since he will not forget what happened but wants to look ahead and the court cases won’t solve much: “only time and death of all of us involved at the time will heal definitively those wounds”.
Astori said the ruling coalition was considering “the negative consequences which such action and chosen path could have from a political and judicial point of view and that is why we favour to pause and wait” before moving ahead.
“This will be useful for all of us to think how these negative political consequences could be avoided and at the same time comply with the ruling from the Inter American Court of Human Rights”, said Astori during a much publicized television interview.
Last March the CIDH ruled that the Expired Crimes bill “impedes the investigation and sanction of serious violations of human rights” and “lacks judicial effects, thus it can not continue to represent an obstacle”.
Astori said he favoured other options to ensure taking to court human rights violators. One of the options according to the Vice-president is revoking administrative acts from previous governments which determined that certain specific cases are not included in the amnesty.
“I believe this would be the fastest and most effective way: a decree from the Executive could overturn the situation” pointed out Astori.
Uruguay has a long democratic tradition and an enviable history of fair and transparent elections together with plebiscites on crucial issues that go beyond the legislative debate. This has been the case of the Expired Crimes bill which was twice submitted to plebiscite, both promoted by the current ruling coalition: in 1989 when in opposition and in 2009 when in office.
Furthermore another plebiscite in 1980 organized by the military government in support of a new constitution was openly rejected and the verdict respected by the authorities of the time. It was a historic landmark which helped a quick return to democracy with the 1984 elections.