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Torture in Uruguay

To the Editors:

May I urgently request the support of your readers in the campaign we have just started against torture and other gross violations of human rights in Uruguay. Amnesty International, an impartial, non-political, humanitarian organization, has just issued a list of twenty-two people who have died at the hands of Uruguayan torturers from May 1972 to November 1975. The list (which may be obtained free from AIUSA, 2112 Broadway, Room 309, New York, NY 10023) was sent to the President of Uruguay, Senor Bordaberry, in December. We requested permission for an impartial investigation into torture and other violations in Uruguay, but have received no reply. Since then at least two more people have died under torture in Montevideo.

We estimate the number of political prisoners in Uruguay in January 1976 at nearly six thousand. In a population of about two and a half million this represents a ratio of one prisoner for every 415 citizens. By far the most sinister aspect of Uruguay’s vast repressive apparatus is the widespread and systematic use of torture—a routine practice in political cases. The police and army have perfected a revolting variety of torture methods, including electric shocks on sensitive organs of the body, near-drowning by submersion of the head in filthy water (“the submarine”), thirst, the prevention of sleep, the use of painful drugs such as pentothal, and various forms of psychological torture.

Political prisoners in Uruguay represent all political views from Communist to the right-of-centre Blanco (White) Party, and include workers, students, doctors, former parliamentarians, lawyers, teachers, and trade unionists whose rights have been totally suppressed. Of the 600-700 people detained in mass arrests at the end of 1975 at least ten are reported to have been transferred to a military hospital with serious injuries and some in critical condition. “All of them will ‘sing’ here,” an officer of the Batallon numero 13 de Blindados has stated, “or we will break every bone in their bodies.”

Efforts to investigate the abuses have been systematically resisted by the authorities. This reluctance is hardly surprising. Commenting on the denunciation of torture issued by the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church of Uruguay, the President declared that he defended “rigorous interrogation.” In the case of Senor Hugo Leonardo de los Santos Mendoza, an independent autopsy, corroborated by the Forensic Institute of the Judiciary, proved that he had not died of lung oedema but as a consequence of torture. A presidential order classified the case as a military secret and investigation was transferred from civil to military jurisdiction, following which nothing further has ever been heard of the case.

Such are the atrocities that are taking place in Uruguay at the very moment you are reading this letter. In the name of humanity please help us expose and curb the horror. Politely worded letters or postcards should be sent to Presidente de la Republica del Uruguay, Don Juan Maria Bordaberry, Casa de Gobierno, pza. Independencia, Montevideo, Uruguay, stressing Uruguay’s respected humanitarian traditions, recalling the fact that Uruguay has both signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (both of which categorically prohibit the use of torture), and urging his government to end torture and restore human rights in Uruguay.

Ivan Morris

Chairman

Amnesty International USA

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