Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
After over a year of public deliberation, the parliament in December 2013 passed legislation that made it legal to consume marijuana, grow cannabis plants at home, and purchase the drug from licensed pharmacies. While polls revealed that the majority of Uruguayans were still against drug legalization in 2013, opposition to the bill waned toward the end of the year as supporters argued effectively that prohibition fostered organized crime and carried greater health risks.
Uruguay still boasts some of the lowest crime rates and strongest state institutions in the region. However, it has experienced a rise in crime and insecurity in recent years due primarily to drug trafficking and small-scale gang activity. The change in the country’s drug laws attempted to address and reverse this trend.
In May 2013, Uruguayan courts for the first time convicted a serving general for human rights violations committed during the country’s dictatorship. General Miguel Dalmao, who was a 23-year-old lieutenant when the crime was committed in 1974, was sentenced to 28 years in prison for the torture and murder of a communist professor.
Political Rights: 40 / 40 (+1) [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12
The 1967 constitution established a bicameral General Assembly consisting of the 99-member Chamber of Representatives and the 30-member Senate, with all members directly elected for five-year terms. The president is directly elected for a single five-year term.
In general elections held in October 2009, the Broad Front (FA) coalition won 50 seats in the lower house, the Nationalist Party (PN) won 30, the Colorado Party 17, and the Independent Party (PI) 2. In the Senate, the FA won 16 seats, the PN took 9, and the Colorado Party won 5. The FA’s Jose Mujica was elected president. The next general elections will be held in October 2014.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 16 / 16
Uruguay is home to an open and competitive multiparty system. The major political parties and groupings are the Colorado Party, the PI, the PN (also known as the Blanco Party), and the ruling FA coalition. The FA includes the Movement of Popular Participation, the New Space Party, the Socialist Party, and the Uruguayan Assembly, among other factions.
C. Functioning of Government: 12 / 12 (+1)
Corruption levels in Uruguay are low by regional standards, and by 2013 government institutions had established a fairly strong track record of accountability to the electorate. The country’s Transparency Law criminalizes a broad range of potential abuses of power by officeholders, including the laundering of funds related to public corruption cases. Uruguay was ranked 19 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, making it one of the best performers in Latin America.
Civil Liberties: 58 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 16 / 16
Constitutional guarantees regarding free expression are respected, and violations of press freedom are rare. The press is privately owned, and the broadcast sector includes both commercial and public outlets. There are numerous daily newspapers, many of which are associated with political parties. A 2009 law eliminated criminal penalties for the defamation of public officials. President Mujica sent a draft broadcast media law to the parliament in May 2013; the bill includes provisions restricting broadcast oligopolies, safeguards against censorship, more transparent licensing procedures, and a requirement that at least 60 percent of the programming on each channel be produced or coproduced in Uruguay. If passed, the bill would be a step toward increased pluralism and transparency in the press. The government does not place restrictions on internet usage.
Freedom of religion is broadly respected. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 / 12
Rights to freedom of assembly and association are provided for by law, and the government generally observes these in practice. A widespread array of community organizations are active in civic life. Numerous women’s rights groups focus on problems such as violence against women and societal discrimination. Workers exercise their right to join unions, bargain collectively, and hold strikes. Unions are well organized and politically powerful.
F. Rule of Law: 15 / 16
The judiciary is relatively independent, but the court system remains severely backlogged. Pretrial detainees often spend more time in jail than they would if convicted of the offense in question and sentenced to the maximum prison term. Overcrowded prisons, poor conditions, and violence among inmates remain serious problems. The prison system held an estimated 10,000 inmates in 2013, 120 percent of intended capacity. Medical care for prisoners is substandard, and many rely on visitors for food.
Uruguay’s efforts to bring to justice those responsible for human rights violations committed under the military regime that ended in 1985 have been inconsistent and at times contradictory. A 1986 amnesty law gave the executive branch, rather than the judiciary, final say over which cases could be tried. A majority of Uruguayans supported the amnesty and voted to maintain it in two separate referendums in 1989 and 2009. However, court rulings have historically reinterpreted the law to allow for higher-level officers to be tried. Going against popular opinion, in November 2011, Mujica signed a law nullifying the amnesty, opening the door for additional convictions. However, in April 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that the 2011 law was unconstitutionally retroactive.
Uruguay has historically been one of the most peaceful countries in the region. However, homicides increased by 45 percent in 2012, compared with 2011, making it Uruguay’s most violent year on record. Gun ownership rates are unusually high in Uruguay, and more than half of the weapons in the country are illegal. Officials have attributed the rise in crime to warring drug gangs, with Uruguay becoming an increasingly important transit point for narcotics. The Mujica administration’s response included an increased police presence in the capital and the bill to legalize and regulate the production and distribution of marijuana. The president signed the legislation in late December 2013. Meanwhile, the “Seven Zones Plan,” which began implementation in 2013, expanded social programs and law-enforcement measures in the poorest districts of Montevideo. A bill that was still awaiting approval at the end of 2013 would tighten controls on the possession of shotguns and handguns.
The small Afro-Uruguayan minority, comprising an estimated 4 percent of the population, continues to face economic and social inequalities and is underrepresented in the government.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 15 / 16
Women enjoy equal rights under the law but face traditional discriminatory attitudes and practices, including salaries averaging approximately two-thirds those of men. Violence against women remains a problem. Women hold only 12 percent of the seats in the Chamber of Representatives and 13 percent of the Senate. However, under a 2009 quota law, women must comprise one-third of a party’s candidate list beginning in 2014. Women make up approximately 25 percent Uruguay’s armed forces, compared to an average of 4 percent in Latin American countries.
The parliament approved same-sex civil unions in 2007, legalized abortion for any reason during the first trimester in 2012, and voted overwhelmingly to legalize gay marriage in April 2013.
Lawmakers approved ratification of the Domestic Workers Convention in April 2012, making Uruguay the first country worldwide to do so. The convention, which mandates domestic workers’ core labor rights, came into effect in September 2013.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year