Uruguay must remove obstacles to prosecuting human rights offenses committed during its "dirty war" in the 1970s, including an amnesty that had protected many people accused of killings or kidnappings, the Inter-American Human Rights Court ruled.
The ruling came in the case of Maria Claudia Garcia, the daughter-in-law of Argentine poet Juan Gelman, who was reportedly abducted in 1976 in Argentina and sent to Uruguay, where she disappeared in the custody of dictatorship-era security forces.
The Organization of American States' human rights court said in a ruling published late Wednesday that Uruguay was responsible for Garcia's disappearance and the existence of the amnesty laws had blocked attempts to find out the truth about the crime.
"The government (of Uruguay) should guarantee that the amnesty law ... never again becomes an obstacle for investigations," the ruling said.
Both the military and guerrillas were granted amnesty for dictatorship-era crimes as democracy was restored in Uruguay, and the amnesties have been repeatedly upheld in voter referendums.
Uruguay's Supreme Court later ruled the amnesty can be lifted in some cases of particularly serious crimes, but the law remains in place. In October 2009, the high court declared the amnesties unconstitutional, reasoning that only the courts _ not the executive branch _ can grant amnesty.
Each alleged crime must now be considered by the courts on a case-by-case basis.
A dozen Uruguayan military figures have been prosecuted for crimes against humanity, but all were committed outside Uruguay, particularly in Argentina, where about 150 Uruguayans disappeared.
Many conservative Latin American governments cooperated in a counterinsurgency campaign against leftists in the 1970s.
Uruguay's dictatorship lasted until 1985.