Contributor(s)Rolando Arbusún Rodríguez / Traslator: Briane Laruy / Reviewer: Ako Allan Agbor

Physical integrity

The death penalty was abolished on the 23 September 1907 (Legislation nº 3238). The last execution took place on the 29 September 1902.

The penal code does not provide for a prison sentence of life imprisonment, the maximum penalty of incarceration is 30 years of confinement.

The statistics on the deaths occurring in prison is not published neither by the Ministry of the Interior (authority responsible for the penitentiary system), nor by the National Rehabilitation Institution or INR (entity in charge of the penitentiary administration).

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Penitentiary Affairs provided the existing data (see the “National Mechanism for prevention section”).

According to the Parliamentary Commissioner, between January and July 2017, there have been 17 deaths that have occurred within the prison:

  • six homicides,
  • six suicides
  • and five deaths due to diseases.

The year 2016 registered the greatest number of homicides and suicides of the 11 previous years, becoming the leading cause of deaths in confinement. The “natural causes” (diseases) was the leading cause up until then.

According to the annual reports from the Parliamentary Commissioner, 44 prisoners have died in 2016, of which 31 were by violent means (13 homicides, 12 suicides and 3 unexplained deaths that happened during decidedly violent circumstances) 1.

The three unsolved cases are the following:

  • A prisoner fell from the roof but some witnesses have referenced previous persistent suicide attempts.
  • The second prisoner was electrocuted by a fence while trying to catch a bottle being handed to him from another pavilion.
  • The third tried to escape from prison staff and died while falling from the roof of a building. Some witnesses report that the latter was hurt by shots, and by others that he tripped.

In 2016, the death rate in confinement was 4.27 for every 1,000 prisoners (based on the incarcerated population of 10,303 detainees).

The rate of violent deaths was 3.00 for every 1,000 prisoners.

The homicide rates were 1.55 for every 1,000 prisoners. By comparison, the national rate of homicide in 2016 was 0.076 for every 1,000 inhabitants (265 homicides).

The suicide rate is 1.16 for every 1,000 prisoners, while the national rate is 0.18 for every 1,000 inhabitants. There are no suicide prevention programmes that exist in the prisons, psychological and psychiatric care are not sufficient and lack regular monitoring.

The Uruguayan justice system still has not decided on the case of the mutiny 2 that had occurred in Unit 4 of the National Rehabilitation Institution (Montevideo), nor established the responsibility of the material or intellectual perpetrators. The case dates back to 2013, when two prisoners died due to the forceful intervention of penitentiary security. The events were therefore the object of the special report of the Parliamentary Commissioner and were denounced in front of the penal tribunal.

  1. Parliamentary Commissioner for Penitentiary Affairs, “Special report over the deaths in prison in 2016”, 21 November 2016. 

  2. Parliamentary Commissioner, “Special report over the incidents which occurred in Section 1 of the Santiago Váquez penitentiary complex”, 31 October 2013 

Number of deaths


Annual report of the Penitentiary Parliamentary Commissioner - 2016

The Uruguayan state has signed and ratified the main international treaties regarding the torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishments.

Since 2009, the country has made a point of observing and persistently critiquing the subject of penitentiary conditions and the ill treatments, inflicted on both adults and adolescents. This year, the special reporter of the United Nations on the torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment, Manfred Nowak, made a visit and published a report of his observations.

The National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture (MNP) records in a systematic manner in its reports, degrading housing conditions and treatment of the prisoners in Uruguay. However, the prison authorities and the Ministry of the Interior are constantly ignoring the formulated recommendations by the MNP which are aimed at eradicating the conditions and the situations that lead to the violation of prisoners’ rights.

The Parliamentary Commissioner, as well as the MNP, instrument of the National Institute of Human Rights and the Office of the Ombudsman have denounced, on many occasions, negligence, ill-treatment and abuse of authority by officials of the prison administration, in both institutions for adults and those for adolescents. Members of the penitentiary staff have been condemned for “misuse of office”, in specific cases, but they were never described as offences of “torture”.

Cases of ill treatment or of torture are not treated the same way: the judiciary system is quick and efficient only when the offences are committed by prisoners and/ or their relatives or visitors (homicide, injury, extortions, trafficking of illicit substances). The situation is different with respect to public servants, many of whom share a certain degree of responsibility for crimes committed in prisons, whether by negligence, omission or by direct involvement at certain levels of existing corrupt practices.