WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
30 Mar 2017 | Press Release

International Organizations Denounce Death Threats against Human Rights Defenders in Uruguay

Threats Connected to Dictatorship-Era Cases

Washington, D.C. and Buenos Aires—The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) express their deep concern over the recent death threats made against authorities, justice operators, and human rights defenders in Uruguay who are working for justice in cases committed during the Uruguayan military regime. Threats that target senior government officials (including the current Defense Minister, a senior prosecutor, head of the National Human Rights Institute, and a former Foreign Minister), as well as human rights defenders, cannot be tolerated.  The State must adopt urgent measures to ensure the safety of those who have been threatened, conduct an effective investigation to identify those responsible for this crime, and take measures to ensure that similar threats do not occur again.

The death threat, which was sent by e-mail, was directed at 13 individuals, including Uruguayan Defense Minister Jorge Menéndez; Prosecutor of the Court Jorge Díaz; the Director of the National Human Rights Institute of Uruguay and former prosecutor, Mirtha Guianze, who brought charges against several human rights violators, including former dictator Juan María Bordaberry and retired General Gregorio Álvarez; former Foreign Minister and human rights defender Belela Herrera; human rights lawyers who have represented victims of dictatorship-era crimes Juan Errandonea, Óscar López Goldaracena, Federico Álvarez Petraglia, Juan Fagúndez, Hebe Martínez Burlé, and Pablo Chargoñia; French judge Louis Joinet; Brazilian activist Jair Kirshke; and Italian investigator Francesca Lessa.

The email threat states that “the suicide of General Pedro Barneix will not remain unpunished.” General Barneix was appointed by President Tabaré Vásquez to lead a group to investigate the fate of people who were forcibly disappeared during the dictatorship. On September 15, 2015, after learning that he was going to be arrested for the 1974 extrajudicial execution of leftist militant Aldo Perrini, Barneix committed suicide. The message also states: “No more suicides or unjust prosecutions will be accepted. From now on, for every suicide we will kill three people selected at random from the following list.”

In addition to these threats, less than a year ago, the Uruguayan Forensic Archeology Group (GIAF) of the University of the Republic, which has since 2005 played a key role in locating and identifying the remains of victims of enforced disappearance in Uruguay, was similarly threatened and their laboratory broken into. To date, the investigation into the robbery and threats against the GIAF has not produced tangible results.

Threats like these are intended to intimidate those seeking to pursue accountability for grave violations of human rights in Uruguay,” said Jo-Marie Burt, Senior Fellow at WOLA. “They aim to ensure that dictatorship-era human rights violations remain unpunished, which erodes citizen confidence in state institutions charged with administering and delivering justice,” she added.

According to Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director of CEJIL, in the Gelman case—CEJIL represented the victims before the Inter-American Court—Uruguay has yet to comply with the various reparations ordered by the Court. “The death threats come at a time when Uruguay should be abiding by the decision emitted by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2011 in the Gelman case and, therefore, satisfying its obligation to organize state structures in a way that will bring an end to the impunity around the crimes committed during the last dictatorship (1973-1984),” said Krsticevic.

WOLA and CEJIL express their solidarity with the victims of these threats, who human rights defenders and government officials who have struggled for decades for justice and to end impunity. The Uruguayan State should strongly and publicly condemn these threats and ensure the safety of government officials and human rights defenders working on the defense of human rights. To ensure protection, the State must thoroughly investigate the death threats, identify those responsible, and bring them to justice.

WOLA is a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights and social justice in the Americas. CEJIL is an organization working on the defense and promotion of human rights in the Americas.