United Nations


International Human Rights Instruments

Distr.: General

27 December 2016


Original: Spanish

Common core document forming part of the reports of States parties

Uruguay *

[Date received: 8 November 2016]



I.Land and people3

A.Geographic and demographic characteristics3

B.Economic, social and cultural characteristics4

II.General political structure4

A.Political and economic history4

B.Structure of the Government5

III.General legal framework within which human rights are protected9

I.Land and people

A.Geographic and demographic characteristics

1.The Eastern Republic of Uruguay is located on the left bank of the Río de la Plata and the Uruguay River. It is bounded to the west by Argentina and to the north-east by Brazil and has coasts on the Atlantic Ocean to the south-east and the Río de la Plata to the south. The capital is Montevideo.

2.Most of the population is of European ancestry, mainly the descendants of Spanish, Italian and French immigrants who arrived in the country in massive waves in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. According to data from the 2011 census, this group accounts for 93.1 per cent of the country’s population. The population of African descent accounts for 8.1 per cent of the total and is highly concentrated in the capital and the northern part of the country, mainly in areas along the border with Brazil. Persons of African descent are thus the country’s largest ethnic and racial minority. It is estimated that persons of indigenous descent account for 5 per cent of the country’s population, whereas persons of Asian descent account for 0.5 per cent and unspecified others for 0.2 per cent. The official language is Spanish, and, as stated in article 5 of the Constitution, Uruguay has complete freedom of worship and no State-supported religion.

3.Land area:

Total area: 318,392 km2

Land area: 176,215 km2 (± 64 km2)

Island area in the Uruguay River: 105 km2 (± 4 km2)

Area of territorial waters: Uruguay River, 528 km2 (± 40 km2)

Area of territorial waters: Mirim Lagoon, 1,031 km2 (± 20 km2)

Area of territorial waters: Río de la Plata, 15,240 km2 (± 20 km2)

Area of the territorial sea: 125,057 km2 (± 9 km2)

Area of Rincón de Artigas: 237 km2 (± 6 km2)

Average altitude: 116.70 m

Maximum altitude: Cerro Catedral in the Sierra Carapé, 513.66 m

Coordinates: Latitude: 34º22′58″S

Longitude: 54º40′26″W

Demographic characteristics



Total population

3 286 314

1 319 108

1 967 206


1 577 725

613 990

963 735


1 708 481

705 014

1 003 467

Percentage of total population




B.Economic, social and cultural characteristics

Nominal gross domestic product (GDP) (at current prices) in 2015: US$ 53.44 billion (source: World Bank)

Labour force participation rate: 65.1 per cent

Employment rate: 60.6 per cent

Unemployment rate: 7.0 per cent

Underemployment rate: 7.6 per cent

In 2014 public debt was €26.448 billion, or 61.4 per cent of GDP, and per capita debt was €7,770

Illiteracy rate of the population aged 15 years and over in 2011: 1.7 per cent

II.General political structure

A.Political and economic history

4.Uruguay has historically stood out for its adoption of social legislation that is ahead of its time. Special legislation on the rights of the child dates back to 1934, when the Children’s Code was promulgated and entered into force.

5.From 1930 to 1960, economic growth indicators were good, and child mortality and literacy rates were major social benchmarks attesting to the living conditions of the majority of the population. Between 1974 and 1985, the country was ruled by a civilian and military dictatorship, with the consequences which that situation had in terms of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

6.The peaceful solution and non-violent transition in 1985 were the result of a significant effort by all sectors of society. As a result of the changed political situation in the country, the new leaders were able to develop long-term policies that temporarily overcame the country’s economic deficits.

7.The 1990s were characterized by structural adjustment programmes, which were applied throughout Latin America to varying degrees, based on recommendations from the major international financial institutions. At the regional level, the Treaty of Asunción establishing the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) was signed in 1991 between Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

8.The Uruguayan economy experienced growth under the aforementioned conditions until 1999, when, triggered by an unfavourable regional context and exacerbated by domestic macroeconomic measures, a crisis arose. The economic crisis led to an increase in poverty and destitution and to a sharp rise in unemployment and emigration, and is therefore considered to be the biggest economic crisis in the country’s modern history. It peaked in 2002, when the financial system collapsed and the fallout spread to the economy as a whole. Per capita GDP fell by 30 per cent between 1999 and 2002, inflation surged after several years of stability, and the value of the local currency plunged, while the unemployment rate reached 17 per cent.

9.Historical trends of the past 50 years show that emigration has become a structural phenomenon in the country. Periods of increased migration coincide with those in which the effects of economic crises on employment and on household income are heightened. The existence of colonies of compatriots abroad is also a major reason for increased emigration. Accordingly, heavy emigration was an expected consequence of the crisis experienced by the country in the first few years of the current century, and its key feature was the large proportion of young emigrants with medium and high education levels. It is estimated that approximately 100,000 people emigrated between 1996 and 2003, and the total for the period from 1964 to 2004 comes to approximately 440,000 emigrants, or about 13.9 per cent of the resident population of Uruguay.

10.The country’s economic recovery began in 2003. By 2004, the unemployment rate had fallen by four percentage points, while between 2006 and 2013 Uruguay posted an average annual growth rate of 5.5 per cent. In July 2013, the World Bank classified Uruguay as a high-income country, as its gross national income per capita came to US$ 13,580.

11.This economic performance has enabled the country to consolidate the structural improvements made after the 2002 crisis and to protect itself from external shocks such as the international crisis of 2008-2009. Despite the negative effects and global uncertainty, annual economic growth was 4.4 per cent in 2013, rates of unemployment (6.3 per cent) fell to historic lows and substantial progress was made in reducing poverty and destitution (which fell from 34.4 per cent and 2.6 per cent, respectively, in 2004 to 11.5 per cent and 0.5 per cent, respectively, in 2013). Uruguay has diversified its export markets to reduce dependence on its main trading partners and has continued to bring down its debt-to-GDP ratio. It has also managed to lower the cost of debt, lessen dollarization and extend the maturity profile of its financial obligations.

12.The regional integration arrangements to which Uruguay is a party include the Latin American Integration Association, MERCOSUR, the Union of South American Nations and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. These entities, within their areas of competence and geographical scope, focus on uniting the Latin American region and forging a shared identity.

B.Structure of the Government

13.Section IV of the Constitution, entitled “Form and branches of government”, contains provisions governing the tasks of the different branches of the State and their relations with each other. Article 82 states as follows: “The nation shall adopt a democratic, republican form of Government. Sovereignty shall be exercised directly by the electorate through elections, initiatives and referendums, and indirectly by the representative branches established by this Constitution, in accordance with the rules contained herein.”

14.Uruguay is a presidential republic divided into 19 departments and 89 municipalities. The central Government is made up of three branches, and the review bodies are the Court of Audit, the Electoral Court and the Administrative Court.

1.Executive branch

15.Executive authority is exercised by the President of the Republic, acting in agreement with the respective minister or ministers or with the Council of Ministers. The Vice-President of the Republic stands in for the President in the temporary or permanent absence of the latter and presides over the General Assembly and the Senate.

16.Both the President and the Vice-President are directly elected by the people (electorate) by an absolute majority of votes, and each political party presents a single pair of candidates for President and Vice-President.

17.The President and Vice-President must be natural-born citizens of Uruguay and have reached 35 years of age. Their term of office is five years and they may be re-elected provided that five years have elapsed since the end of their previous term.

18.The Council of Ministers consists of the heads of the respective ministries and is exclusively responsible for all acts of government and administration proposed by the President of the Republic or by the Ministers on topics relating to their ministries. Membership of the Council is subject to the same requirements and disqualifications as membership of the Senate. At present, Uruguay has the following ministries:

Ministry of Defence

Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance

Ministry of the Interior

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Ministry of Labour and Social Security

Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries

Ministry of Transport and Public Works

Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining

Ministry of Social Development

Ministry of Health

Ministry of Education and Culture

Ministry of Tourism and Sport

Ministry of Housing, Regional Planning and the Environment

19.Article 168 of the Constitution establishes the responsibilities of the President of the Republic, acting either with the respective minister or ministers or with the Council of Ministers. They include the following:

(a)Preserving internal order and tranquillity, and external security;

(b)Exercising supreme command of all the armed forces;

(c)Publishing and circulating all laws, executing and enforcing them and issuing such special regulations as may be necessary to implement them;

(d)Informing the legislature of the state of the Republic and of the improvements and reforms that he or she deems worthy of its attention;

(e)Objecting to or commenting on bills sent to him or her by the legislature, and proposing new bills or amendments to laws previously adopted;

(f)Appointing consular and diplomatic personnel, with the obligation to seek the agreement of the Senate or, if the Senate is in recess, the standing committee, for heads of mission;

(g)Appointing the Attorney General and the other State prosecutors, with the consent of the Senate or, if appropriate, the standing committee;

(h)Decreeing the severance of relations and, in accordance with a prior resolution of the General Assembly, making a declaration of war, in the event that arbitration or other peaceful means of avoiding war have been unsuccessful;

(i)Concluding and signing treaties, with the approval of the legislature being necessary for their ratification.

2.Legislative branch

20.Legislative authority is exercised by the General Assembly. It consists of two houses, the House of Representatives or Deputies and the Senate. The responsibilities of the General Assembly include, inter alia:

(a)Adopting laws relating to the independence, security, tranquillity and honour of the country, to the protection of all the rights of the individual and to the promotion of education, agriculture, industry and domestic and foreign trade;

(b)Declaring war and adopting or rejecting, by an absolute majority of the full membership of both houses, such treaties of peace, alliance or trade and conventions or contracts of any nature as the executive branch may conclude with foreign Powers;

(c)Introducing the necessary taxation to meet budgetary expenditure; determining its distribution, means of collection and investment; and eliminating, altering or increasing existing taxes;

(d)Electing, in a joint session of both houses, the members of the Supreme Court of Justice, the Electoral Court, the Administrative Court and the Court of Audit.

2.1House of Representatives

21.The House of Representatives has 99 members elected directly by the people, under a system of proportional representation that takes into account the votes cast for each party throughout the country. Representatives hold office for five years.

22.Representatives must either be natural-born citizens or have been naturalized citizens for at least five years, and must have reached 25 years of age.

23.Article 93 of the Constitution states that the House of Representatives has the exclusive right of impeachment, before the Senate, of members of either house, the President and the Vice-President of the Republic, Ministers of State and members of the Supreme Court of Justice, the Administrative Court, the Court of Audit and the Electoral Court for violation of the Constitution or other serious offences, after having taken cognizance of the matter upon petition by a party or by one of the members, and having decided that there are grounds to proceed.


24.The Senate has 30 members elected directly by the people in a single voting district under a system of full proportional representation. It also includes the Vice-President of the Republic, who is a full member and presides over both the Senate and the General Assembly. Senators hold office for five years.

25.Senators must either be natural-born citizens or have been naturalized citizens for at least seven years, and must have reached 30 years of age.

26.The Senate has the authority to initiate public proceedings against persons impeached by the House of Representatives or by the departmental legislature, as the case may be, and to deliver judgment, the sole effect of which is removal from office, by a vote of two thirds of the full membership.

3.Judicial branch

27.Judicial authority is exercised by the Supreme Court of Justice and by the courts and tribunals, as prescribed by law.

28.The judicial hierarchy is as follows:

Supreme Court of Justice

Courts of appeal

Courts of first instance

Magistrates’ courts

Courts of minor offences

29.The Supreme Court has five members, who are appointed for a period of 10 years by the General Assembly. The Supreme Court is responsible for appointing judges of all other ranks and categories, by an absolute majority of the members.

30.All holders of positions in the judiciary must be qualified lawyers or notaries.

31.Access to the courts is free of charge for persons declared needy under the law.

4.Departmental administration

32.The government and administration of each of the 19 departments, with the exception of law enforcement, are the responsibility of a departmental legislature and a governor.

33.The governor is elected directly by the people for a term of five years and may be re-elected only once. Political parties present one gubernatorial candidate each, chosen through primary elections.

34.The governor is responsible for the executive and administrative functions of the departmental government, whereas the departmental legislature is responsible for legislative and supervisory functions.

35.The departmental governments have administrative and financial autonomy vis-à-vis the national Government.

36.Municipal elections are held at the same time as departmental elections to elect members of the municipal governments. Each municipal government has five members, who are elected by voters in the corresponding municipal voting district.

37.The first person on the list receiving the largest number of votes of the party with the largest number of votes in the municipal district is appointed as mayor and presides over the municipal government. In order to serve as mayor, a candidate must have been elected and declared a member of the municipal government.

38.The remaining members are known as councillors, who serve ad honorem.

39.The requirements for becoming a member of a municipal government are the same as those for serving as a departmental legislator.

40.Members of departmental legislatures, governors, employees of departmental governments and civil servants, among others, may not become members of municipal governments.

5.Administrative Court

41.The Administrative Court hears applications to nullify administrative decisions of the Government that are contrary to a rule of law or have been taken ultra vires. It exercises judicial review over State actions and has five members. Nullification proceedings may be initiated by anyone having a right or a direct, personal and legitimate interest that has been violated or harmed by the administrative decision.

42.When the Court nullifies a decision, the claim for redress must be entered in the ordinary courts to determine the injury caused. Such cases are heard by the ordinary administrative courts.

6.Electoral Court

43.The Electoral Court has jurisdiction over all electoral acts and procedures and has supervisory authority over the electoral bodies.

44.It has nine members, of whom five are appointed by the General Assembly and must be citizens whose position on the political spectrum guarantees their impartiality. The other four members are elected by the General Assembly and represent the main political parties.

III.General legal framework within which human rights are protected

45.Fundamental human rights are protected by the Constitution, which provides for civil and political rights (arts. 7-40) and economic, social and cultural rights (arts. 40-71). Article 72 recognizes that the list is not exhaustive, since the other rights that are inherent in the human person or that derive from the republican form of government cannot be excluded from State protection.

46.The fundamental rights set out in the various international human rights instruments to which Uruguay is a party have thus been enshrined in the Constitution, and the exercise of those rights is, in most cases, regulated by law.

47.In principle, a treaty that is in force and has been ratified by Uruguay is directly applicable under domestic law and may be invoked before the country’s courts, unless the treaty itself provides otherwise or the structure of the international standard makes this impossible.

48.For an international standard to be applicable domestically, the executive must express the will of the State by signing or acceding to an international instrument. It is the responsibility of the legislature to adopt and incorporate the instrument into domestic legislation, after which the executive deposits the instrument of ratification or accession. Thus, the procedure for expressing the Uruguayan State’s consent to be bound internationally requires the adoption of enabling domestic legislation.

Authorities responsible for ensuring respect for human rights

49.Uruguay has a number of institutional human rights mechanisms, in particular the Human Rights Secretariat of the Office of the President. The Secretariat was created by Act No. 19.149 on the statement of accounts for fiscal year 2012 (art. 67) to replace the Human Rights Directorate of the Ministry of Education and Culture. It is run by a governing board composed of the Secretary of the Office of the President, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Education and Culture, the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Social Development and is responsible for mainstreaming human rights in the public policies of the executive branch.

50.The mission of the Human Rights Secretariat for the Recent Past, which is also part of the Office of the President and is continuing the work of the former Secretariat for Follow-up to the Peace Commission, has been strengthened through an expansion of its mandate and areas of responsibility.

51.Currently, a number of national institutions have offices with specific responsibility for human rights issues in the areas that are within their competence. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for example, has a Directorate of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, an Ethnicity and Race Unit and a Gender Commission, with the objective being, inter alia, to ensure the mainstreaming of these issues in the institutional framework and ministerial decision-making.

52.In addition, in order to implement measures, receive complaints and prevent rights violations, many commissions have been established, including the Honorary Commission against Racism, Xenophobia and All Other Forms of Discrimination, the National Advisory Council to Combat Domestic Violence and the Honorary Council on the Rights of Children and Adolescents.

53.Act No. 17.684 of 29 August 2003 established the position of Parliamentary Commissioner of Prisons, whose responsibilities include advising lawmakers on monitoring compliance with domestic legislation and international conventions ratified by Uruguay concerning the situation of persons deprived of liberty as a result of judicial proceedings, and supervising the work of the bodies responsible for running the prisons and facilitating the social reintegration of prisoners and released prisoners.

54.The Commissioner, who is independent, is empowered to:

(a)Promote respect for the rights of all persons deprived of liberty as a result of judicial proceedings;

(b)Request information from the prison authorities on the living conditions of prisoners;

(c)Make recommendations to the prison authorities. These recommendations are not binding, but if they are not acted upon the parties to whom they are made must explain to the Commissioner in writing, by a strict deadline and on pain of liability for negligence, their reasons for not doing so;

(d)Receive complaints and allegations concerning violations of prisoners’ rights;

(e)Inspect prison facilities;

(f)File applications for remedies of amparo or habeas corpus and bring criminal complaints;

(g)Cooperate with entities that promote respect for human rights.

55.In addition, in 2008 the National Human Rights Institution and Ombudsman’s Office was established as an autonomous institution within the legislative branch, in compliance with the 1993 Paris Principles adopted by United Nations General Assembly resolution 48/134 and with the commitments made under the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted at the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights.

56.This institution is responsible for the defence, promotion and protection of human rights, and it may recommend institutional mechanisms for ensuring the processing of complaints of human rights violations and take appropriate action. One of its objectives is to provide greater safeguards for individuals’ effective enjoyment of their rights and to see that laws, administrative practices and public policy conform with international human rights standards.

57.In 2013, the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture, which has worked on the issue of adolescents entering the juvenile justice system, was established as part of the National Human Rights Institution and Ombudsman’s Office.

58.The Parliamentary Commissioner of Prisons also acts as a national mechanism for preventing torture in the adult prison system.

59.Finally, it should be noted that the operations of the Parliamentary Commissioner of Prisons and the National Human Rights Institution and Ombudsman’s Office, including their investigations, publication of reports and implementation of budgets, are not subject to any form of control by the State.

International commitments

60.Uruguay has ratified all the fundamental treaties for the protection of human rights and the optional protocols thereto. The country also cooperates with all the bodies of the United Nations system and has extended a standing invitation to the special procedures, while continuing to honour its commitments and to make voluntary contributions to the universal system.

61.In addition, Uruguay is now up to date with the various bodies that monitor the implementation of international human rights treaties. Since its first universal periodic review, in 2009, Uruguay has submitted reports to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2010), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (2011), the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (2012), the Committee against Torture (2012), the Committee on the Rights of the Child (2012), the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (2012), the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (2013), the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2013) and the Human Rights Committee (2013).

62.At the regional level, Uruguay has ratified the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights, which established the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and set out the powers and procedures of both the Court and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

63.As a founding member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Uruguay served two terms (2006-2009 and 2010-2012), playing a leading role and serving as President from June 2011 to December 2012.

64.In 2015, Uruguay signed the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons, which is the first legally binding international instrument on this issue.

65.In addition, the inter-American system has a rapporteurship on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex persons. In this regard, Uruguay has made significant progress at the national and international levels, having signed in November 2015 a memorandum of understanding on joining the Global Equality Fund.

66.The country’s leadership in the area of human rights and humanitarian law is also demonstrated by its participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations, to which it is one of the chief contributors of troops. Furthermore, Uruguay provides training to forces from other countries, for whom the Uruguayan presence in conflict zones serves as a model. It also promotes greater participation by women and observes a code of conduct that is considered exemplary by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. In this regard, Uruguay is strongly committed to the protection of civilians and contributes tangibly to safeguarding their lives in conflict situations where United Nations peacekeeping operations are deployed.

67.The participation of Uruguay as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the period 2016-2017 is a significant demonstration of the respect that Uruguay has earned in the international arena. It also represents a new challenge, half a century after the country’s first term as a member of the Council (1965-1966).