Law on the Expiration of the Punitive Claims of the State

The Law on the Expiration of the Punitive Claims of the State (Spanish: Ley de Caducidad de la Pretensión Punitiva del Estado), called in short the Expiry Law (Spanish: Ley de Caducidad) granted an amnesty of sorts to the military who eventually committed crimes against humanity during the civic-military dictatorship of Uruguay. It was implemented as an ad-hoc solution to a political crisis with the background of military resistance to the Uruguayan redemocratization process in course.

This law was proposed by the first government of Julio María Sanguinetti, co-written by legislators of the two main political parties, Colorado and National, supported by the main opposition leader, Wilson Ferreira Aldunate, and heavily opposed by the Broad Front and other political and social organizations. It was passed by the Uruguayan Parliament on 22 December 1986 and published with the number 15848.[1]

Extremely controversial in nature, this law is still in force:[2] in 1989 and 2009, Uruguayans voted in referendums and decided twice to keep the law, which detractors consider as plain impunity.[3]

Approved by a majority of conservative political forces, the law absolved all military and police personnel from any putative crimes committed under the dictatorship and made no allowance for prior investigations or due process. The legislation was ratified by a civilian majority in an April 1989 referendum, despite an intense two year-long popular campaign against it, and it narrowly escaped abolition in a 2009 plebiscite. This case of citizens legally voting to uphold amnesty for state perpetrators of human-rights crimes not once but twice, twenty years apart, is unprecedented in world history. The twofold sanction by parliamentary and popular votes has acted as a political “double seal” (as it was publicly called at the time) on the unresolved problem of human-rights abuses. This politics of memory that past crimes are better forgotten had gained acceptance not only among political and military elites but also within the mainstream civilian population.[4]


  1. Francisco Gallinal (28 February 2009). "La ley de caducidad". El País. Retrieved 30 October 2010. (Spanish)
  2. "Uruguay Annual Report 2011". Amnesty International. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
  3. "A brief history of Uruguay's Expiry Law". London School of Economics. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
  4. Fried Amilivia, Gabriela (2016). State Terrorism and the Politics of Memory in Latin America: Transmissions Across The Generations of Post-Dictatorship Uruguay, 1984–2004. Amherst, New York: Cambria Press. pp. 6–7. ISBN 9781604979190.
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