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Experts of the Committee against Torture Praise Uruguay’s Parliamentary Penitentiary Commissioner, Ask Questions a bout a New Law Expanding Police Powers and Prison Overcrowding

Meeting Summaries

 

The Committee against Torture today concluded its consideration of the fourth periodic report of Uruguay, with Committee Experts praising the Parliamentary Penitentiary Commissioner and raising questions about a new law granting additional powers to police officers, and about prison overcrowding.

Claude Heller, Committee Chair and Co-Rapporteur for the report of Uruguay, was pleased that there was a Parliamentary Penitentiary Commissioner who conducted monthly visits to prisons and submitted reports to Parliament, and could bring complaints to the judiciary where necessary. However, there appeared to be an overlap in various bodies in this regard, and Mr. Heller asked how they coordinated in order to avoid contradiction in their work.

Mr. Heller also addressed the new law on urgent consideration, which included new criminal offences for resistance of arrest and resisting police authority, increasing sentences both for adults and juveniles. This law was a backslide with regard to previous legislation, as it also eroded Uruguay’s commitment to various international instruments. Officials from the Ministries of Law and of Defence were not liable under this law in certain circumstances. Mr. Heller expressed concern that this law opened the door to police action based on selective and arbitrary criteria on the suspicion of a crime, limiting the safeguards put in place to protect civilians.

Ana Racu, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the report of Uruguay, addressed prison overcrowding, saying that serious efforts were needed to bring prisons in line with international standards. The exponential increase in the number of persons deprived of liberty derived from a penal system that imposed custodial systems, and this contributed to the worsening humanitarian situation in Uruguayan prisons. What was Uruguay’s vision for improving detention conditions and reducing overcrowding?

Introducing the report, Carolina Ache, Deputy Minister of External Relations of Uruguay and head of the delegation, said that there were independent mechanisms for preventing and monitoring torture in Uruguay, working under the aegis of the national human rights institution, which operated as the national human rights mechanism to prevent torture and ill-treatment, as well as the Parliamentary Penitentiary Commissioner. These two bodies visited detention centres and received complaints. There had been progress made in the prevention of potential acts of torture, cruel or inhuman punishment or ill-treatment.

On the law on urgent consideration, the delegation said that its articles had been implemented through a democratic process and with public support. The police needed to be able to behave differently to reduce homicides, sexual violence and other crimes, and the law had contributed to reducing the crime rate. In the 18 months since the introduction of the law on urgent consideration, 34 people had been killed by the police, a decrease from the previous period. Police officers were prohibited from torturing or harming citizens under the law.

The delegation said that overcrowding in prisons was an issue, with prisons at 120 per cent capacity. New prison units were being built by inmates to secure space for 1,800 inmates. The Government aimed to create 3,500 new places in detention facilities to reduce overcrowding. There was also a specialised technical unit that worked on promoting alternative measures to detention. New technologies had been implemented, such as ankle bracelets for facilitating house arrests.

In concluding remarks,Mr. Heller thanked the delegation for its detailed responses. There had not been enough time to address all issues, but significant progress had been made in assessing Uruguay’s adherence to the Convention.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Ache thanked the Committee Experts for their comments and recommendations, which would help to improve the quality of life of the citizens of Uruguay. Uruguay was a State with robust, democratic institutions which functioned with unwavering respect for public freedoms. Ms. Ache reaffirmed the State’s commitment to upholding international law and respecting human rights and dignities.

The delegation of Uruguay consisted of representatives from the Ministry of External Relations; the Justice of the Supreme Court; the Secretariat of the Recent Past for the Presidency of the Republic; the Ministry of Interior; the Ministry of National Defence; the Institute for Children and Adolescents of Uruguay; and the Permanent Mission of Uruguay to the United Nations Office at Geneva .

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Uruguay at the end of its seventy-third session on 13 May. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found  here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found  here.

The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 11 May at 10 a.m. to address follow-up to articles 19 and 22 and reprisals.

Report

The Committee has before it the fourth periodic report of Uruguay (CAT/C/URU/4).

 

Presentation of Report

CAROLINA ACHE, Deputy Minister of External Relations of Uruguay and head of the delegation, said Uruguay’s presentation of the report in 2018 and the delegation’s presence today were evidence of its staunch commitment to the international system for the protection of human rights. Uruguay maintained an open invitation to all Special Procedures and mechanisms that requested a visit. Changes had occurred and progress had been made since the presentation of the report. It was important to underscore that this period was characterised by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had compelled Uruguay to reorient and bolster public expenditure in order to safeguard the health of the population and to mitigate the social impact of the pandemic. Several measures had been adopted in order to control and monitor the pandemic in the country.

Persons held in detention centres during the pandemic had been guaranteed safe and priority access to the vaccine. They also had access to educational activities on the pandemic and were ensured family visits using flexible criteria. Domestically, legislative and institutional progress in human rights had been made: the current legal order had significantly broadened civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights. Uruguay had urgently addressed several priorities, such as the struggle for equality and against any type of discrimination, ensuring a dignified life for those deprived of freedom.

Measures had been adopted favouring the social reintegration of persons deprived of liberty. The “young adult” category had been established to promote greater accessibility to rehabilitation, and a system had been developed allowing private companies to employ vulnerable persons, including those who had been previously detained. The reform of the prison system included combatting overcrowding in penitentiary centres by building new areas, promoting alternative measures to imprisonment, improving detention conditions, and holding activities aimed at social reinsertion after the conclusion of sentences. The conditions in a significant number of prisons did not meet current international standards, but work was being carried out to swiftly address the situation.

Training in human rights and humanitarian law was being held, as had been recommended by the Committee, including for police personnel, the National Institute for Rehabilitation, the National Institute of Social Reinsertion for Adolescents, and the judiciary.

In order to guarantee normative progress, in Uruguay there were independent mechanisms for preventing and monitoring torture, working under the aegis of the national human rights institution, which operated as the national human rights mechanism to prevent torture and ill-treatment, as well as the Parliamentary Penitentiary Commissioner. These two bodies visited detention centres and received complaints. There had been progress made in the prevention of potential acts of torture, cruel or inhuman punishment or ill-treatment.

The Mental Health Act had been enacted, ensuring the progressive closure of asylum and psychiatric hospitals and replacing them with a network of community centres that allowed better care, treatment and follow-up of mental illnesses. Concerning care of children and adolescents in the area of mental health, Uruguay had been taking sustained steps in the transition from a purely biomedical model to one based on social education, working to shorten the period of hospitalisation with improved clinical care.

The phenomenon of violence had been addressed from several perspectives, including prevention, working to improve co-existence in society. The current strategic guidelines called for a change from protection towards a family and community integration model. Significant progress had been made since the creation of the National Institute for the Social Reinsertion of Adolescents.

Recently, the first specialised courts on gender-based violence and domestic and sexual violence had been created in the country.

Some efforts had, however, fallen short. No model of social coexistence was perfect and there was always room for improvement. The Criminal Code had not yet been amended to include the criminalisation of torture as an autonomous crime. Criminal legislation was a key aspect of the legal conception of the country, and any amendment required lengthy deliberation and consensus, which had not yet been reached.

Uruguay aimed for a constructive dialogue with the Committee. The delegation saw the dialogue as an opportunity to assess the progress made, and to improve its policies and the efficacy of the instruments used to defend human rights, in particular against torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Questions by Experts

CLAUDE HELLER, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the report of Uruguay, appreciated the presentation and took due note of the measures taken and the progress made, which reflected the commitment of Uruguay in the area of human rights. There were structural aspects that were a legacy from the past and challenges that needed to be addressed by the Government. What were Uruguay’s plans in the field of human rights, in particular with regard to the purview of the Committee. There was an imbalance between the democratic development, the prevalence of the rule of law, Uruguay’s commitment to human rights, and the necessary means to fully fulfil the provisions of the Convention. There was a clear democratic commitment to human rights on the one hand, and on the other, there was an absence of human, economic and material resources, for example relating to detention centres.

It was the State’s responsibility to address the economic impact of the pandemic and all the complications brought about by such unexpected events. Concerning the definition of torture, in the report, it was noted that torture had not been criminalised as an autonomous crime in the Criminal Code in keeping with the Convention. The crime of torture had been included in the Criminal Code in article 22, which had been in force since 2006, referring to crimes of war, genocide, and crimes against humanity, but not necessarily to the cases that take place in the domestic context.

Mr. Heller recommended again that the crime of torture be criminalised following the provisions of article 1 of the Convention, and asked for a comment as to whether any consideration had been given to this proposal. There should be a national registry for cases of torture - a database was indispensable in tallying and systematically processing serious human rights violations. The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, in its 2018 visit to Uruguay, had received various allegations by people deprived of liberty, who alleged torture and various forms of ill-treatment under different circumstances, carried out by police groups, including special police units, at the moment of detention, or at the time during which the individuals, who included adolescents, were under police auspices. These crimes may not have been investigated and sentenced, and the delegation should comment on this.

Mr. Heller was pleased that there was a Parliamentary Penitentiary Commissioner, who conducted monthly visits to prisons and submitted reports to Parliament, including special reports on ongoing situations, and could bring complaints to the judiciary where necessary. However, there appeared to be an overlap in the work of various bodies in this regard, and Mr. Heller asked how they coordinated in order to avoid contradiction in their work.

The new law on urgent consideration included new criminal offences, including the resistance of arrest and resisting police authority, increasing sentences both for adults and juveniles. This law was a backslide with regard to previous legislation, as it also eroded Uruguay’s commitment to various international instruments. Various United Nations Special Rapporteurs had indicated their concern in this regard. The new law included that officials from the Ministries of Law and of Defence were not liable under this law in certain circumstances.

Article 49 of the law introduced a new provision to police procedure, in which it was stated that it assumed that police officials were acting in line with the provisions and law in force. Human rights defenders, civil society organizations and the national institution had all stated that this provision was a matter of concern when talking about the use of force by the police and military officials. The Committee was concerned that this opened the door to police action based on selective and arbitrary criteria on the suspicion of a crime, limiting the safeguards put in place to protect civilians.

The legal framework on the use of force should be in line with international rules and standards, as law enforcement officials should only use force when this was strictly necessary and in carrying out their duties, using non-violent methods first where possible. All use of force must be in line with international standards and comply with reasonability and proportionality. Mr. Heller wondered whether the increasing violence and delinquency in Uruguay were of great concern, and whether the increased police patrols were justified, as they put human rights at risk. Had Uruguay considered using social justice to put an end to this trend. The Committee always took a firm stance that the adoption of measures ensuring better public security could not be to the detriment of human rights and the protection of fundamental freedoms.

There had been increasing numbers of reported deaths at the hands of the police, and the delegation should provide information on the number of complaints received of alleged violations of human rights by police forces. Was the Government considering specific legislation to deal with complaints of violence, and would it be establishing an independent mechanism to investigate complaints of torture, in line with the Convention? Was there any political will to revise or review provisions relating to police proceedings which would expand the discretionary power of law-enforcement officials, to bring them in line with international standards? An increased number of offences had been criminalised, and stricter sentences had been adopted, leading to the increase of overcrowding in prisons. Uruguay was one of the countries with the highest figures for detention in South America, with the prison population continuing to grow, including a growth in the number of women prisoners. Did the country have a strategic plan to combat overcrowding, and to provide alternative measures to deprivation of liberty, Mr. Heller asked?

ANA RACU, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the report of Uruguay, said a great deal of changes had taken place since the last review, and whilst some were positive, some of the recommendations made previously had not been implemented at all. Uruguay had ratified all fundamental treaties for the protection of human rights and cooperated with all United Nations bodies and Special Procedures, whilst making voluntary contributions to the universal system.

On article 10, training in prevention of torture for law enforcement staff, the Committee welcomed that various law enforcement agencies received training, but wished to know whether this included training on torture for, among other groups, court officials, including on the provisions of the Convention against Torture, and whether this training was based on the real needs of the trainees. Figures were required, as were details on the new interrogation techniques, including non-coercive interrogation, and how many law enforcement officials had received training in this regard, as well as on the use of firearms.

On the training on prevention of gender-based and domestic violence, were non-State actors provided with qualitative training in this regard, as prejudices remained in judicial sentences. On the role of medical personnel in detention places, their work was vital in investigating allegations. Had they received training on the Istanbul Protocol, and had Uruguay provided training on prevention of torture and the use of force in the military?

The Committee insisted on capacity-building activities for law enforcement agencies, judges and prosecutors, Ms. Racu pointed out, as this was a means to ensure that human rights were put in force. Before punishing, it was urgent for the State to offer opportunities for training. In practice, prisoners were not always afforded all fundamental safeguards, including the right to access an independent lawyer and doctor of their choice, and contact a family member. Persons apprehended by the police faced, according to some reports, significant danger of harm. Information was required on how access to lawyers was implemented; what was the ratio of available lawyers for detained persons; and how often were lawyers allowed to visit persons in police custody. What measures were in place to ensure that detainees were informed of their rights to legal counsel? How were decisions to use force by individual officers viewed, and what were the penalties for one who had been determined to use excessive force, she further asked?

There were no legal mechanisms to protect the victim from police violence. The burden of providing a plausible explanation for injuries to a person in custody was upon the Government. The Committee would appreciate any information on State efforts to ensure access to medical care and an update on any recent initiatives on ways in which there had been an improvement of the way that medical personnel could assess the medical situation of detainees. What were the internal provisions to report cases of possible torture and ill-treatment? Were there any registers, how many cases had been reported, and what were the results of the reports? Did the State party provide a written copy explaining the human rights of detainees as of the beginning of their detention.

On conditions in police detention units, in the past there had been criticism for the poor conditions and overcrowding, and over past years considerable steps had been made, but serious efforts were needed to bring them in line with international standards. The exponential increase in the number of persons deprived of liberty derived from a penal system that imposed custodial systems, and this contributed to the worsening humanitarian situation in Uruguayan prisons.

There were no separate units for persons awaiting trial. Most persons deprived of their liberty were offered no physical or re-educational activities at any time, which could explain the high rates of recidivism. What was Uruguay’s vision for improving detention conditions and reducing overcrowding, including administrative, legislative and judicial measures? What improvements were expected to be completed, and how would the State party reduce the number of persons incarcerated.

Prison management was still under the competence of the Ministry of the Interior, and Ms. Racu asked whether there were any plans to change this. There were reports of increased use of self-harm in order to access health services. The supply of medication in prisons appeared to be problematic, and the shortage of medical staff required further explanation. What measures had the State party taken to ensure that communicable diseases were not spread among inmates.

There were reports indicating a fairly high number of prisoner-on-prisoner violence, including self-injuries. Was there a mechanism for recording such violence, reducing the impact of prison gangs, and reducing psycho-social tensions causing such violence? Were prison staff properly trained in reducing these and intervening, Ms. Racu asked? Prisoners needed to be offered a constructive regime, with a range of purposeful activities. Reducing overcrowding and providing inmates with adequate living conditions would contribute to reducing the incidents of violence between prisoners.

The Committee would like an update on measures taken to reduce deaths in custody, including suicides. Areas related to the education and work of women prisoners also required further elaboration. What measures had been taken at legislative and institutional levels to improve the situation of women in prisons.

Despite adherence to a number of international treaties, there had been a retrogressive tendency with regard to children’s rights in previous years. The conditions of detention of children and adolescents were not sufficient, with lack of access to exercise and other activities. There had been a doubling in the minimum and maximum length of sentences for minors. Children detained in other settings than the justice system, such as the mental health system, were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. Children were exposed to ill-treatment and abuse, lack of therapeutic care, and lived in inadequate settings with a lack of staff. The deprivation of liberty was used as a first rather than a last resort for adolescents.

There was a lack of labour programmes and programmes of integration for youth. Were there any alternatives to detention for minors in the national system, and did solitary confinement continue to be applied, Ms. Racu asked? The situation of women who faced sexual and gender-based violence, including femicide and marital rape, was also an issue of concern. The Government should elaborate what it was doing to investigate complaints of violence against women, including domestic violence, and whether its efforts to remedy this were adequate.

Other Committee members then raised a number of other issues, including what was the field of applicability and whether there was a legal framework limiting the use of the law on police actions that could be considered to be arbitrary. With regard to impunity, what was the situation with regard to military authorities over the age of 65 who were found guilty of crimes against humanity in the context of a draft bill.

It was important to record data in complying with the obligations under the Convention. Could Uruguay provide information on redress and compensation measures, including the means of rehabilitation, ordered by the courts or other State bodies and actually provided to victims of torture and ill-treatment. The bill under consideration treated torture more leniently than other crimes, and this ran counter to the Convention.

What was the latest status of Uruguay’s participation in the Quito Process with regard to refugees, a Committee Expert asked, as it appeared to be a comprehensive instrument focusing on many points that were of interest to the Committee? Could disaggregated data be provided in this regard?

Responses by the Delegation

Responding to these questions and comments, the delegation said that it was correct that there was not yet a definition of torture in the Criminal Code. Concerning the national institution of human rights and its preventive mechanism, the Government did not intend to dismantle either of these bodies and was committed to maintaining them and their roles. Uruguay was committed to human rights and to the obligations which the country had shouldered. There had been criticism made, and this was healthy, and did not threaten the system.

Uruguay had approved the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court, and had amended the Criminal Code in that regard, including the definition of the offence of torture into article 22. The definition of offences and any amendments were the exclusive province of the executive, and there had not yet been a relevant consensus in this context. In the meantime, the judiciary was tasked with implementing the relevant norms in the country. This normative issue, in line with the technical independence of the judiciary, depended on the implementor in each case. When it came to assigning criminal responsibility for a crime, Uruguay could use the provisions of the International Criminal Court. Thus, the crime of torture had not been criminalised as a stand-alone crime, but it was part of a normative system, which ensured that infringements did not go unpunished, but also meant that there were no individual records for the stand-alone crime.

There was no overlap in the work of the Parliamentary Penitentiary Commissioner and the Ombudsman on Human Rights. In Uruguay there were plural, multi-faceted mechanisms against torture, including the national human rights commission, as well as the Parliamentary Penitentiary Commissioner. The task was broad and vast and there was work for all in coordination. No mechanism should have a monopoly over human rights; there should be a plurality of actors, working together to strengthen protection across the board. It was important to maintain a distinction between the preventive mechanism and the reactive mode on individual complaints.

Uruguay provided reparation for persons who suffered harm. Uruguay’s civil standards provided for reparation for victims of torture, human trafficking, and wrongful imprisonment. No one was prohibited from asking for reparation from harm. There were no sentences for a charge of torture, however, torture was treated as a form of very serious harm, and was punished according to the law on very serious harm.

The law assigned the national human rights institute the functions of a human rights preventive mechanism. The budget requested for the institution had always been approved and granted. The Government had financed the rebuilding of the institute’s building and the hiring of staff. The national human rights institute was responsible for assessing the condition of detained persons. The Ombudsman’s Office of Uruguay had 92 staff, and the Government had funded promotions for those staff.

The articles of the law on urgent consideration had been implemented through a democratic process and with public support. The judiciary operated in a fully independent manner. There had been expectations that the law would lead to abuse of power, however, this was not the case.

Police officers were trained to defend the lives of citizens, and put their own lives at risk to protect citizens. The articles of the law on urgent consideration protected these police officers. Claims of corruption or law breaking from police officers were duly investigated and offenders punished. Uruguay was not a police State, and there were no military police officers. The police needed to be able to behave differently to reduce homicides, sexual violence and other crimes, and the law had contributed to reducing the crime rate.

In the 18 months since the introduction of the law on urgent consideration, 34 people had been killed by the police, a decrease from the previous period; and 32 complaints had been registered regarding ill-treatment suffered in police custody. Most of the complaints had been dismissed according to article 28 of the law. Complainants were offered a medical examination. Police officers were prohibited from torturing or harming citizens under the law.

There had been no amendments to the law on urgent consideration regarding the punitive responsibilities of the State. Amendments had been made to juvenile criminal law regarding how the State acted in response to offences. The amendments were in line with liberal criminal law, and enshrined limits to protect citizens. The age of responsibility remained 18 years old.

Independent tribunals in juvenile courts were held for adolescent offenders, and reintegration programmes were in place for them. The Children’s Code governed children’s rights in court proceedings, including access to legal aid and interpretation. Education and reintegration for adolescent offenders was a focus for the State. There had not been a rise in detained adolescents or crimes after the law on urgent consideration was enacted.

No police officer could enter premises without a judicial order. All persons had freedom to demonstrate wherever they liked, however premises and streets could not be occupied.

In Uruguay, human rights were being violated in prisons. The Government needed to work to transform the situation. Detainees needed to have sufficient living conditions and the opportunity to reintegrate into society. The national rehabilitation institute worked with police officers to reintegrate inmates. The “prison dignity” plan had been established.

Overcrowding in prisons was an issue, with prisons at 120 per cent capacity. New prison units were being built by inmates to secure space for 1,800 inmates. Inmates had previously slept on the floor, but inmates were now encouraged to build their own beds. The vaccination rate in prisons was the highest in the State. Visits were limited during the pandemic. Only four persons deprived of liberty had lost their lives due to COVID-19. Forty per cent of food consumed in prisons was produced by prisoners. Persons deprived of liberty could open a small venture and sell what they made in their cells.

The national institute of rehabilitation had been assigned to oversee the penitentiary system of Uruguay. This assignment had led to a shift in focus for the police. Technical staff were included in “penitentiary interventions”, programmes designed to help rehabilitate inmates. This institute was independent of the Government. Many proposals had been made to restructure this institute, and this project was ongoing.

The abuse of adolescents occurred in isolated cases, but was not systematic. The system prevented abuse, and established protocols for responding to such incidents. Since 2015, there had been a specialised body to examine the treatment of adolescents in detention facilities. Adolescent victims were provided with counsellors and health care. Any adolescent that was found to have committed a crime received a medical assessment to check for signs of abuse.

The low number of public defenders was an obstacle to providing legal aid in regional areas, however, the number of defenders had been increased recently. Throughout 2020, there were 47,000 public hearings, so there were around 300 hearings per public defender. The number of judges had also been increased.

The State assigned public attorneys to persons who required them. There were many opportunities for attorneys to visit defenders without a police officer present.

The national human rights institute was created in accordance with the Paris Principles. The poor conditions in prisons were a human rights problem. Uruguay had the twelfth highest rate of the population detained in prisons in the world. Safeguards that existed for prisoners were very low. Prisoners were not informed about their right to appeal and issue complaints. It was vital that the judiciary shoulder the responsibility of providing attorneys, but it was lacking resources in this regard.

The national human rights institute received complaints of abuse from prisoners, and brought these to the relevant office, often the Attorney General’s Office. Abuses were often caused by a lack of training or resources in prisons. There was a lack of justice within the prison system, with several cases of violence between inmates. House arrest had been used to reduce the number of persons in prisons, but there was no official strategic plan to reduce prison overcrowding. The national human rights institute had approached the Government with a plan to increase alternative punishments to imprisonment. It also called for improvements in the health care provided to detainees. Certain prisons did not provide health care in line with the Mandela Rules. Only 10 per cent of prisons had good conditions of rehabilitation. The institute recommended that an operative group be established to devise public policy to improve conditions in prisons.

The State needed to focus in particular on improving rehabilitation of detained women and their children. Most women deprived of their liberty had committed minor offenses. The institute was in talks with the Government aiming to reduce the number of incarcerated women. The improvement of conditions in prisons was an ongoing process.

Prison workers did not receive training in the Istanbul Protocol, and this needed to be addressed. There had been 27 deaths in prisons caused by negligence, and this was evidence that the health care system needed to provide better care for prisoners.

Eighty-six persons deprived of liberty had died, a concerningly high figure; 0.15 per cent of detainees were victims of homicide in 2020. Prisons were working with limited staff during 2020, which was one reason for the high number of homicides. Alternatives to detention for juveniles who committed minor offences had been implemented from earlier this year.

Prisoners were provided with a medical examination upon detainment to check for communicable diseases. An inter-institutional round table had drafted a protocol for timely access to health care treatment in prisons. The national centre of rehabilitation had established a programme to counter prisoners’ drug addictions. Specific policies to address drug addiction in prisons were being prepared.

Juvenile rehabilitation centres were not overcrowded, and a survey had found that juveniles rated the facilities at these centres positively. When a civil servant did not meet their obligations and abused adolescents, they were punished and kept away from adolescents. The national institution for supporting adolescents worked to shorten waiting lists for medical care for adolescents. There was a positive trend in moving from a system based on detainment to a system based on social education. Time in detainment had been reduced as part of the reforms.

In 2019, detained adolescents spent 15 hours a day in cells, and this had been reduced to 13 hours in 2021. Adolescents were provided with vocational training and allowed to participate in recreational activities. Painting days and construction workshops were held, but adolescents were not forced to perform refurbishments of facilities. There was an easily accessible system online for filing a complaint related to treatment in detention facilities.

The national rehabilitation institute was made up of 4,000 civil servants, including 1,000 police officers and 3,000 professionals with different tasks. This staff was not sufficient for achieving the institute’s goals. There had been efforts to recruit more staff to the institute. The total number of staff had increased by 10 per cent as a result.

Basic police training was given to all national police officers. The national rehabilitation institute provided additional training on human rights issues, such as the Mandela Rules and women’s rights. The Istanbul Protocol was a topic that the institute planned to provide more training on; 871 officials had been trained in human rights since 2017.

Military officials were provided with training on international protocols and human rights. Military staff deployed on peacekeeping missions were trained on a number of human rights issues, including prevention of sexual abuse and child soldiers.

Compulsory human rights training was provided to judicial officials. Training covered the Istanbul Protocol, the rights of migrants and refugees, access to justice and safeguards, enforced disappearance, sexual abuse and other topics.

Since 2018, training programmes had been implemented for public officials and civil society on the mental health of refugees, xenophobia and discrimination. In 2020, there was one case of sexual violence against refugees, followed by 10 such cases in 2021. The non-governmental organization dealing with gender-based violence provided support to victims. Work was being done to reduce refugees’ exposure to gender-based violence. Refugee families had been supported in settling in Uruguay and establishing livelihoods. There was no discrimination of refugees based on nationality. Persons in need of international protection had been granted entry during the pandemic. Recognised refugees were provided with identity documents and access to social services. Uruguay was focusing on the regularisation of all migrants.

Questions by Committee Experts

CLAUDE HELLER, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the report of Uruguay, expressed satisfaction with Uruguay’s commitment to protecting human rights. Mr. Heller said that overcrowding in prisons was a serious issue. Was there a strategy to address overcrowding, such as an increase in alternatives to detention? After the law on urgent consideration was enacted, overcrowding had worsened.

The excessive use of force by the police, abuse, illegal detention, and raids without warrants were mentioned as issues in a 2016 report by the Parliamentary Penitentiary Commissioner. The High Commissioner on Human Rights had also expressed concern about violence in prisons. A database on human rights abuses needed to be developed.

Mr. Heller welcomed the increase in public defenders.

ANA RACU, Committee Co-Raporteur for the report of Uruguay, said that the Committee appreciated the delegation’s honesty regarding the situation in Uruguay. How did the Government monitor compliance with safeguards for defendants and detained persons, and punish officials who were not compliant? The State’s ability to respect the dignity of detained persons was important. Ms. Racu welcomed the reconstruction work that had been undertaken on prisons, but noted criticism of the budget allocated to the prison system. What budget had been allocated to prison refurbishment? How did the State plan to improve the ratio of use of alternatives to detention?

What problems did prison staff face in day-to-day management? Had preventive measures led to a decrease in inmate violence? There were reports that the prison system faced a shortage of staff. What was the number of prison workers, and what measures were in place to increase the number of staff? Ms. Racu also called for figures on abuse of prisoners by staff.

The Committee supported the idea of creating a working group for improving prisoners’ health and prison conditions. Ms. Racu encouraged the State party to come up with a holistic approach to improving health care in prisons. How many incidents of self-harm had occurred in prisons?

The State party had progressive provisions for improving juvenile detention. What provisions were in place to improve facilities in juvenile detention centres? Did national legislation specify alternatives for detention for minors? Was solitary confinement applied for adolescents? Were juvenile detention centres monitored by an independent body? What measures was the State taking to prevent self-harm in juvenile detention?

The Committee expressed concern regarding the amendments to the law of police procedures. These allowed for the use of force by the police, and for retired police officers to retain firearms. The amendments also increased maximum sentences for adolescents. Ms. Racu called for more alternatives to detention for children in conflict with the law.

Another Committee Expert expressed appreciation for the information provided regarding the philosophy underlying legislation. The Expert called for more concrete, statistical information regarding cases of torture.

Responses by the Delegation

No police officer could carry out a house raid without a warrant.

Complaints had been filed against police officers who had committed abuses. Complaints of police abuse were taken very seriously. Complaints were investigated and police officers were duly punished if found guilty of abuse.

A registry of incidents that had occurred in prisons had been developed containing data on incidents in 2022.

There were insufficient numbers of penitentiary staff, but the Government was making efforts to increase staff, having hired 300 new staff thus far. Methods for reporting abuse of prisoners by police officers and penitentiary staff were also in place. Abusive police officers were held to account.

The Government aimed to create 3,500 new places in detention facilities to reduce overcrowding. The Ministry of Social Development was working on assisting released prisoners to reintegrate into society. Addictions needed to be treated, and prisoners needed to be provided with work opportunities to deter them from reoffending.

A specialised technical unit worked on promoting alternative measures to detention. New technologies had been implemented, such as ankle bracelets for facilitating house arrests. The Government needed to increase the human and financial resources of this unit. There were plans to reorganise this unit in cooperation with the EL PAcCTO (Europe Latin America Programme of Assistance against Transnational Organised Crime) organization.

There was no national plan to prevent prison overcrowding, and this was necessary to secure a budget to tackle the issue. The national human rights institute had visited maximum security prisons and raised concerns that the Mandela Rules were not respected there.

A working group had been established to develop a general policy on prisons. Improvements were being made to prison facilities using State finances. Experts were working to prevent violence in prisons and address prisoners’ drug addictions. The frequency of investigations by the prosecutor’s office needed to be increased.

The national treasury had assigned budgetary resources for improving juvenile detention facilities. The number of adolescents serving alternative sentences had increased through Government measures promoting alternatives to detention.

Concluding Remarks

CLAUDE HELLER, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the report of Uruguay, thanked the delegation for its detailed responses. There had not been enough time to address all issues, but significant progress had been made in assessing Uruguay’s adherence to the Convention.

CAROLINA ACHE, Deputy Minister of External Relations of Uruguay and head of the delegation, thanked the Committee Experts for their comments and recommendations, which would help to improve the quality of life of the citizens of Uruguay. Uruguay was a State with robust, democratic institutions which functioned with unwavering respect for public freedoms. Ms. Ache reaffirmed the State’s commitment to upholding international law and respecting human rights and dignities.

 

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