a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
As of November, three prison guards were awaiting trial on charges of homicide and two other offenses. In October 2018 during a prison riot, a guard shot an inmate with nonlethal ammunition in a situation where the inmate did not pose a threat, according to the parliament special rapporteur for prisons. Medical attention was not provided in a timely manner, and the inmate died from his injuries. Initially the Ministry of Interior reported the inmate died as a result of a knife wound inflicted by another inmate during the commotion, but an investigation by the special rapporteur revealed this was not the case. The Prosecutor General’s Office investigated, and in August the three guards were charged with homicide, failure to render aid, and abuse of authority.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions continued to be poor and inhuman in some facilities due to overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care, inadequate socioeducational programming, and high levels of violence among inmates.
Physical Conditions: In October the prison population was 11,380 inmates, compared with an average population of 10,179 in 2018. With the addition of new facilities, the average prison population density (total number of inmates per spaces available) was 91.3 percent in 2018. The situation in each prison, however, varied greatly–in a total of 27 prisons, six prisons were above 100 percent capacity, two prisons were above 120 percent capacity, and two prisons were above 200 percent capacity. Some prison sections experienced particularly critical overcrowding situations. In addition parliament’s special rapporteur on the prison system, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT), and the National Torture Preventive Mechanism (NPM) under the National Human Rights Institution (INDDHH) reported overcrowding also affected sections of prisons with an average population below their full capacity. The NPM reported that in one unit, inmates had to negotiate a cell spot and mattress for themselves upon their arrival, leading to violent interactions among inmates. The special rapporteur stated 35 percent of inmates suffered from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and that 39 percent of inmates experienced insufficient conditions for social reintegration. The worst prison conditions were in units with high overpopulation rates and the largest overall prison populations.
Certain prisons lacked hygiene, sufficient access to water, sufficient and/or satisfactory food, and adequate socioeducational and labor activities. Prisoners sometimes spent 23 hours of the day in their cell. The SPT reported inmates in one module remained in their cells for weeks or even months. Inmates were sometimes exposed to electrical, sanitary, and other risks due to poor infrastructure.
In the annual report, the special rapporteur reported a lack of medical care in prisons. Medical services were available only for emergencies and did not always include preventive care and routine medical care. The lack of prison personnel limited the ability of inmates to have outside medical appointments. Inmates were transferred to new prisons without their medical records and medication prescriptions. Mental health services were not adequately available to tend to the population that required attention, monitoring, and treatment. Administrative delays sometimes affected the issuance of medications.
The NPM and the special rapporteur reported high levels of institutional and interpersonal violence in many prisons, particularly the larger facilities. As of September there had been 30 deaths in prison, 20 of which were violent deaths (prisoner-on-prisoner violence or suicide). Prison guards killed one inmate in 2018; an investigation was in process as of October (see section 1.a.).
Overpopulation, isolation, and a lack of socioeducational activities led to a high risk of violence. The homicide rate in prisons was 15 times higher than outside prison walls, while the suicide rate in prisons was four times higher. Shortages in personnel and basic elements of control, such as security cameras, made prevention, control, and the clarification of facts in security incidents difficult. Shortages of prison staff to securely transport and accompany inmates affected prisoners’ ability to participate in workshops, classes, sports, and labor-related activities.
The situation for female inmates, who made up 5 percent of the prison population, varied. In mixed-gender prisons, prison authorities assigned women to some of the worst parts of prisons, leading to difficulties in access to food, private spaces, and visits with family members, as well as difficulties obtaining information and technical and human resources. In a purported effort to prevent conflicts among men, guards prevented women from using the prison yard, excluded them from a number of activities, and did not allow them to wear clothes they considered revealing during visits. There was no regular access to routine sexual and reproductive health services. Mothers in prison with their children lived in facilities with poor planning and design, security problems due to a lack of prisoner classification, health and environmental concerns, a lack of specialized services and facilities, and undefined and unclear policies for special-needs inmates. Research conducted by Universidad de la Republica concluded that children detained with their mothers did not have access to proper nutrition.
As in the previous year, the special rapporteur filed a number of corrective habeas corpus actions for different violations of rights ranging from the lack of access to education or health care to inhuman conditions of detention in specific modules.
Some juvenile offenders were imprisoned at age 17 and remained in prison for up to five years. The NPM reported the situation in juvenile detention centers varied greatly from center to center, reflecting a lack of consistent standards across the system. According to the NPM and SPT, the prison situation for some adolescents violated human rights, due to verbal and physical abuse by officials. Prisons increased educational services, but they remained insufficient, providing only three to four hours per week for inmates. Security constraints at prison facilities often interfered with or altogether eliminated educational, recreational, and social activities for juvenile inmates. In some cases socioeducational programs were scarce, fragile, or replaced with confinement.
Juvenile facilities had deficiencies in physical conditions, including sites with crumbling infrastructure that was not designed for or conducive to rehabilitation activities. Both the NPM and SPT specifically pointed to the Center for Intake, Study, Diagnostics, and Referrals and the Belloni Complex as having serious infrastructure problems. High turnover of staff and leadership in the juvenile prison system, as well as a lack of trained and specialized staff, were causes for concern.
According to the National Institute for Adolescent Social Inclusion (INISA), in 2017 there were 87 suicide attempts in juvenile detention facilities, and by July 2018 there had been 70 suicide attempts (leading to three deaths). After the last suicide in December 2018, the NPM urged the closure of the Centro de Maxima Contencion where one of the adolescents who committed suicide was being held.
In May the director of an INISA juvenile detention center suffered intoxication after drinking juice prepared for detained adolescents that contained the tranquilizer diazepam. INISA authorities assured that only adolescents prescribed with the medication received it. Government authorities condemned this event as a serious crime and initiated an investigation. The Committee for the Rights of the Child, an alliance of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that advocate for juvenile rights, stated that the excessive use of psychotropic drugs as a control method was repeatedly reported by civil society. The NPM also reported this situation.
Administration: Independent authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, local human rights groups, media, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and international bodies. The special rapporteur and the NPM were also allowed to monitor prisons.
Improvements: A new medium-security prison, with capacity for 173 inmates, was inaugurated in the department of Florida.
The National Rehabilitation Institute established a national program for women imprisoned with children. Initial steps were taken to develop programs for inmates with substance abuse and addiction problems and programs for sexual offenders. According to the special rapporteur, the institute also took significant steps to implement response protocols for violent incidents in line with the law and universal human rights.
The Ministry of Interior’s National Directorate for Released Inmates, established in 2018, strengthened agreements with various entities to improve education and employment opportunities for released inmates.
The NPM recognized efforts by several INISA detention centers, which tried to implement proposals with a socioeducational rather than a security-focused approach, specifically mentioning centers Desafio, Nuevo Rumbo, Granja, CIAF (a female juvenile detention facility), and Ituzaingo.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Police apprehended suspects with warrants issued by a duly authorized official and bring them before an independent judiciary. Arrests may be made without a judge’s order when persons are caught in the commission of a crime. The law provides detainees with the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention and requires the detaining authority to explain the legal grounds for detention. For a detainee who cannot afford a defense attorney, the court appoints a public defender at no cost. Apprehended suspects must be brought before a judge within 24 hours. If no charges are brought, the case is closed, but the investigation may continue and the case reopened if new evidence emerges.
The possibility of bail exists, but it was undeveloped and rarely used. Most persons facing lesser charges were not jailed. Officials allowed detainees prompt access to family members. Confessions obtained by police prior to a detainee’s appearance before a judge and without an attorney present are not valid. A prosecutor leads the investigation of a detainee’s claim of mistreatment.
Pretrial Detention: In 2017 the government transitioned from an inquisitorial system to an accusatory system of criminal justice to address inefficiency, opacity, and the overuse of pretrial detentions, as well as to establish a more fair and transparent judicial system that provides greater advocacy to victims. These changes sped up case processing, reducing the problem of lengthy pretrial detention. According to the special rapporteur, in late 2017, 69 percent of inmates had not been sentenced for a crime and were subject to lengthy pretrial detentions. As of October that figure had decreased to 26 percent. Pretrial detention is now limited to cases of recidivism, risk of flight, grave crimes, or if an individual poses a risk to society, all subject to a judge’s determination. The INDDHH reported that an individual’s presumption of innocence was undermined by the fact that pretrial detention was linked to previous crimes and recidivism.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence and to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges brought against them. In addition, they have the right to a trial without undue delay; to be present at their trial; to communicate with an attorney of their choice or to have one provided at public expense if they are unable to afford one; to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to receive free assistance of an interpreter; to not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses; to present one’s own witnesses and evidence; and to appeal. There is no use of juries.
Under the 2017 shift to the accusatory system, the Prosecutor General’s Office went from prosecuting approximately 400 cases per month in November 2017 to prosecuting a monthly average of 1,212 cases between February and July.
A few months after the 2017 changes to criminal procedures legislation passed, it was again reformed through legislation that amplified police discretion in the first moments of detention and in the investigations phase, and it suspended precautionary measures. These changes, according to the INDDHH, undermined human rights and due process guarantees at the moment of detention. The second wave of changes to the criminal procedure code also limited the application of conditional release. In September the Senate passed a law that limits the use of probation for recidivists and for persons whose sentence exceeds three years.
With revisions to the law in 2017, human rights monitoring agencies expressed concern that the changes reduced judicial guarantees for juvenile offenders. According to the INDDHH, the revisions reduced medical checks and increased pretrial detention from 90 days to 150 days.