Uruguay lawmakers revoke Dirty War amnesty

AP News
Posted: Oct 27, 2011 10:40 AM
Uruguay lawmakers revoke Dirty War amnesty

Uruguay's Congress revoked amnesty for military officials charged with human rights abuses on Thursday, ending a deal between left and right that for a quarter-century has prevented prosecutions for crimes against humanity.

Uruguay's lower house voted 50-40 to eliminate the amnesty, following a similar vote in the Senate. President Jose Mujica is expected to sign the law before Nov. 1, when, if Congress had not acted, a statute of limitations would have eliminated the possibility of new prosecutions for dictatorship-era crimes.

Dozens of suspected leftists were kidnapped and killed during the 1973-1985 dictatorship. Congress' pre-dawn vote meets a demand by human rights groups that people who kidnapped, tortured and killed in the name of the state should be punished.

"Impunity has ended," cheered Luis Puig, a deputy with the ruling Broad Front coalition.

Uruguay's Supreme Court now must decide whether lifting the amnesty is constitutional.

Opponents say the measure violates both the constitution and the will of the people, since the military amnesty was upheld in popular referenda in 1989 and 2009.

Some military leaders have vowed to push for prosecution of crimes committed by former guerrillas if their own colleagues are brought to court.

Mujica and most other leaders of the leftist Tupamaro guerrillas served long prison sentences for the political violence they fostered in the 1960s and early 1970s. But several dozen have allegedly remained free, benefiting from a separate amnesty for leftists who committed crimes more than a generation ago.

Sen. Jorge Larranaga of the conservative opposition National Party said "with this law that Parliament approved, the Broad Front has torn several pages from the national constitution and put itself above the popular will."

The vote came hours after a court in neighboring 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 committed during that country'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. About 5,000 detainees passed through the school. Fewer than half survived.

Closing out a trial that began in December 2009, four other defendants were sentenced to between 18 and 25 years in prison, while two others were absolved. Former Adm. Emilio Masserta, who commanded the torture center, was not included among the defendants because of poor health and died last November.