Intervenciones urgentes

Uruguay: Perpetrador de malos tratos de niños detenidos, permanece trabajando

Case URY 250604.CC
Child concern/ Ill-treatment/Impunity

The International Secretariat of OMCT requests your URGENT intervention in the following situation in Uruguay.

Brief description of the situation

The International Secretariat of OMCT has been informed by the NGO Comite de los Derechos del Niño and other reliable sources that - despite repeated denounciations through several channels since 2001 and penal charges recently brought against him - Mr.Hebert Bentancour the main perpetrator of repeated ill-treatment of child detainees is still working in the SER Berro high security detention centre for children in Uruguay.

In September 2003, OMCT was invited to visit most centres of detention for minors in Uruguay, in parallel with a national seminar on «Children Deprived of their Liberty”, organised by the Comite de los Derechos del Niño, with support from UNICEF and Save the Children Sweden. During these visits, OMCT took note of a number of very worrying trends:
· absence of information on violence among minors in detention and due diligence of State agents in such cases;
· absence of adequate and child sensitive complaint mechanisms and concerns as to the inhuman and degrading treatment to which certain conditions of detention may amount to;
· lack of qualifications of some law enforcement and penitentiary staff in direct contact with children in conflict with the law;
· serious limitations to the right to defence and due process in the application of disciplinary measures in detention;
· lack of determination and information on the planned duration of the sentence;
· the fact that deprivation of liberty is not used as a measure of last resort due to the lack of alternatives to imprisonment available in the country.
· absence of prompt reaction exhibited by the judiciary as regards allegations of past acts of ill-treatments committed against children in detention brought to its attention over the past months.

Between 1996 and 2001, a number of cases of ill-treatments had been reported to and investigated by the administration. They were mostly instances of boys having been beaten or having suffered inhuman and degrading treatments at the hands of staff members of the Berro complex. As noted in complaints reiterated and finally brought before the penal court by NGO representatives, a core group of alleged perpetrators and supervisors keept on re-appearing in various complaints, as well as practices reported by several children in separate instances: “During the nightshift, as you knock the door cell to be taken to the toilets, you are taken out from the cell, taken to the lavatories, stripped from your clothes, beaten up, given a cold shower and taken back to your cell, where you are left without bed sheets nor mattress until the morning shift.” In some instances, the adminstration temporarily suspended or transferred alleged perpetrators from one centre to the other within the Berro complex. However, no further measures were taken and the incriminated staff members continued to work and remained a potential threat to the children.

On 1st March 2004, a violent rebellion took place in the SER Berro high-security detention centre, described in OMCT's report as the place where most worrying trends could be noted. In the course of events leading to this rebellon, Mr.Hebert Bentancour and a police officer severely ill-treated a minor fugitive.

National NGOs were at last heard and some of OMCT’s general recommendations were taken up by the highest authorities and concerned administrations in the country. Yet, it is reported that Mr.Hebert Bentancour still has not been suspended from his functions while the investigation on the charges against him is being carried out.

The international secretariat of OMCT is very concerned by the risk of further abuses that the authorities are taking by letting Mr.Hebert Bentancour in post and by the impunity enjoyed by other agents involved in irregularities still taking in the Berro complex.

Background information on juvenile justice in Uruguay:

The system of deprivation of liberty for children in Uruguay is presented as rehabilitative and progressive. Several positive steps towards social rehabilitation of children, alternatives to imprisonment, some elements of professional training for convicted children indeed exist. Some key international norms in relation with children deprived of their liberty - such as the prohibition of solitary confinement, the prohibition of corporal punishment, the organisation of regular visits by family members, etc. - are strictly respected. However, authorities themselves recognise that there is a problem of overcrowding, which seriously hampers the sanitary state, intimacy, and security of children in detention. For instance, OMCT visited a cell in the “high security” centre SER Berro, where four adolescents were held in a 4-5 square meter cell. The cell was damp with water permanently dripping from a tap, cold air coming through a barred aperture. Two of the children were lying on the floor, while the two others were sleeping together on a single mattress. They appeared to have skin diseases and were unnaturally sleepy. Generally, many of these children spend 23 hours a day in their cell (during their first month of detention and when they are under disciplinary measures). Health checks are carried out during the first month of detention but are not systematic afterwards. Showers and toilets are in very poor state and offer no intimacy. Activities are scare and appointment to places of training is based on merit. Children can be detained for minor theft offences, as well as for very serious crimes. Yet, it can be said that the majority are victims of the economic crisis and the absence of strong family environment and control. But beyond the sentence itself, OMCT is concerned about the conditions and length of detention. Through an internal system of disciplinary measures, a convicted child can placed and displaced from a “soft” place of detention to the harshest one. Hence, the conditions of detention depend on conduct in detention, rather than on the offence committed and on the judgement passed by the judiciary. A child having committed a minor theft can end up being detained with a very serious offender. The duration of detention also depends on conduct, which means that children cannot plan their future. This is especially worrying for those who have children themselves.

For further details, see: Children deprived of their liberty in Uruguay: With or without rights /files/2004/04/2255/uruguayreport.pdf

Action requested

Please write to the authorities in Uruguay urging them to:

i. take all measures necessary to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of all children deprived of their liberty in Uruguay;
ii. immediately suspend Herbert Betancour, and swiftly conclude a thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations of ill-treatment of children in detention, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them to trial and apply the penal and/or administrative sanctions as provided by law;
iii. guarantee that adequate reparation is provided to the children victim of these abuses;
iv. guarantee the respect of human rights and the fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with national laws and international human rights standards.


Dr. Jorge Batlle, Presidente de la República, Fax.: (+598 2) 203 03 40

Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores
Sección de Derechos Humanos
Silvia Izquierdo
Colonia 1206
Montevideo, URUGUAY

Instituto Nacional del Menor - INAME
Presidente: Fernando Repetto
Directora: Stella López Beltrán
Vice Presidenta: Graciela Rompani de Pacheco
18 de Julio 1516 piso 6
Montevideo, URUGUAY
Tel. 4005283 4005257 4005314(presid) 4092736(presid)

Instituto Técnico de Rehabilitación Juvenil - INTERJ
Director: Sergio Migliorata
Gral. Flores 3369
Montevideo, URUGUAY
Tel. (598 2) 2041333 2009921 2042319

Suprema Corte de Justicia
Presidente: Dr. Leslie Van Rompaey
Dirección: Gutiérrez Ruiz 1310
Montevideo, URUGUAY
Tel. (598 2) 9001041/43 9002522 9007260 9001042/43
Fax (598 2) 9023549

Fiscalía de Menores
Mercedes 1796
Montevideo, URUGUAY
Tel. (598 2) 4085512
Fax : (598 2) 900 9346 / 900 9347 / 900 9348

Fiscalia en Juzgado de Menores
(598 2) 9169142

Juzgado de Menores de 1°, 2° y 3° Turno
Bartolomé Mitre 1275
Montevideo, URUGUAY
Tel. (598 2) 9159335 9159070 9159994
Fax : (598 2) 9167707 / 9154513

Ministerio de Eduación y Cultura
Ministro Dr. Leonardo Guzman:

Comisión de DDHH: cdhhcrr@parlamento.gub.uy
Comisión de Asuntos Internacionales: caicrr@parlamento.gub.uy
Comisión de Educación: ceccrr@parlamento.gub.uy

Some MPs:

Media :

Fernando Lugris, First Secretary
Alejandra de Bellis, First Secretary
Permanent Mission of Uruguay
65 rue de Lausanne
1202 Genève
Fax: 00 41 22 731 56 50

Please also write to the embassies of Uruguay in your respective country.

Geneva, June 25, 2004

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

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