WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
25 Mar 2013 | | News

Civil Society and the Resurgent Struggle against Impunity in Uruguay (1986–2012)

By WOLA Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt, Gabriela Fried Amiliviay, and Francesca Lessa

With the approval on 27 October 2011 of Law 18.831, the Uruguayan parliament voted to overturn the 1986 Expiry Law, a law long criticized by human rights advocates because it prevented the criminal prosecution of human rights abuses committed during the country’s military dictatorship (1973–1985). By overturning what many considered the lynchpin of institutionalized impunity in Uruguay, the new law restores the state’s  capacity to prosecute human rights violations. Although a number of factors contributed to this surprising outcome, including a more permissible opportunity structure (the successive election of two left-wing governments) and the willingness of some judicial operators to challenge the Expiry Law, this article argues that the key explanatory variable to understanding these recent developments is the persistent demands of civil society groups over time. Civil society groups developed innovative strategies and incorporated new groups that gave renewed strength to the resurgent struggle against impunity in Uruguay. The article concludes with reflections on the significance of Uruguay’s renewed accountability efforts for transitional justice debates.

To read the entire article in the International Journal of Transitional Justice, please click here.

Photo: Uruguayan detention center. Courtesy of Nicolás Ancheta Curbelo.