The Commission has carried out two on-site observations in Suriname since 1983 and, as a result, has prepared two special reports on the situation of human rights in that country. The first report derived from a complaint lodged with the Commission which urged it to investigate the death of fifteen prominent Surinamese citizens who died at the hands of the military authorities of Suriname. The investigation in situ of this case, and the analysis of the state of human rights in general, were carried out from June 20-24, 1983. Thereafter, the Commission approved its “Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Suriname” on October 5, 1983 concluding that high government officials were responsible for the death of these 15 persons.


          After conducting a second study in loco from June 12 to 17, 1983, the Commission approved its “Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Suriname” on October 2, 1985.


          In the latter report, the Commission also reiterated to the Government of Suriname the fact that despite the recommendation stated in the first Report to investigate the tragic events of December 8, 1982, the investigation had not been done and the high government officials responsible for those acts had not been sanctioned. It should be noted that that recommendation has still not been followed.


          The Commission has repeatedly insisted to the Government of Suriname the need to establish “as soon as possible a system of representative democracy, which, as stated by the Commission on many occasions, is the soundest guarantee for respect of all human rights contained in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.”


          Since that Report was published, the Commission has continued to follow the development of events related to human rights in Suriname.


          During the period covered by this Report, a number of important events have taken place related to human rights in Suriname and these will be discussed in the following section.


          As indicated in last year’s Annual Report during the month of July a guerrilla movement called the Jungle Commando and led by former Sgt. Ronnie Brunswijk emerged. The majority of Brunswijk’s followers are Maroons (descendants of escaped African slaves) like himself.


          The Surinamese Maroons, called bosnegers in Dutch or Bush Negroes in English, total about 50,000 people and comprise about 12 per cent of Suriname’s overall population of some 400,000 persons. (It is estimated that approximately another 200,000 Surinamese citizens have emigrated since independence in 1975, mostly to the Netherlands).


          By November 1986 the Maroon insurrection, particularly in the eastern section of the country between Moengo and the border town of Albina, and shouth to Brokopondo, had escalated dramatically. Moengo and Albina have now been, by and large, abandoned by their respective inhabitants.


          In November of 1986 a state of emergency was declared by the Government in Maroni, Commewijne, Brokpondo, Para, and part of Sipoliwini, covering roughly three-quarters of the country. The state of emergency prohibited the media from reporting on the fighting. The Government also restricted travel on most roads and highways and instituted a curfew from 6:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. as of early December.


          The armed conflict in Suriname has had an impact on human rights and the Commission has sought to carefully follow it. Thus, during the second half of 1986 the Commission received complaints that Government troops had been attacking Maroon villages, and failing to distinguish between unarmed civilians and guerrillas, killed a number of non-combatants.


          In addition, the Commission received reports during the same period of alleged massacres of several Maroon villages including that of Morakondre, District of Marowigne in which a number of persons reportedly died including a child (Case Nº 9820). The complaint also alleged that the Army took unarmed prisoners, mainly youths of 16-17 years of age.


          Another village in which a massacre allegedly took place was Moengotapoe, the home of Ronnie Brunswijk. One report on loss of life in these raids placed the figure at more than 200 dead civilians during December of 1986.


          According to Government statistics there are now 120 male prisoners of war being held in the Fort Zeelandia’s two brigs—one known as the Devil. Two of the prisoners are foreigners, one Italian and one Argentine. Furthermore, during the raids the Army allegedly stole 90,000 guilders (US$50,000) in cash and much jewelry belonging to the Maroons.


          On July 6, 1987 the Government responded claiming that it was the victim of “terrorist activities” of a group whose object is to overthrow the Government. It further claimed that the Army’s actions were defensive in nature and taken only after warning the civilian population to leave the area. With regard to claims of civilian deaths, the Government noted that: “Most regrettably, some of the civilian inhabitants did not leave those areas and were caught in the crossfire.” On the issue of stolen personal property, the Government’s written response was silent.


          On December 4, 1986, public meetings were banned under the state of emergency and river transit was curtailed. Two weeks later, in response to the international concern about the situation in Suriname, the then Foreign Minister, Hendrik Herrenberg, declared that public international organizations including the IACHR were welcome to visit Suriname to assess the human rights situation in the country.


          At its March, 1987 meeting the Commission, citing Minister Herrenberg’s openness, asked the Government’s consent to conduct an on-site visit to Suriname and on April 10, in a prompt response, the Government consented to the in loco investigation. The visit has since been scheduled for the week of October 5-9 of this year. It will be the Commission’s third on-site visit to Suriname since 1983 and the IACHR wishes to underscore its recognition of the consent granted by the Government. The Commission attaches the greatest importance to this visit.


          One of the principal consequences of the civil unrest in Suriname has been the mass exodus of Maroon and Amerindian refugees into neighboring French Guiana. It is estimated that some 9,000 Surinamese refugees are now living in several camps near St. Laurent in French Guiana. Of these, about 8,000 are Maroons and 1,000 are Amerindians. (The Amerindians total about 5,000 in Suriname and comprise about 1.2 per cent of the national population).


          In light of the circumstances that led to their flight from Suriname, the Commission has asked the Government of France to allow it to visit the refugee camps in French Guiana to interview the Maroons and Indians there about alleged violations of their human rights by the Surinamese Army.


          In addition to the claims referred to above, the Commission also received information alleging forced starvation, cutoffs of welfare entitlements and ethnocide against the groups in question. These charges too will be investigated by the Commission both in situ and in French Guiana.


          Another important consequence of the insurrection has been the exacerbation of an already bad economic situation in Suriname. The Commission considers this matter beyond the scope of the present Report. Nevertheless, the economic situation has increased racial tensions and this has clearly affected the observance of human rights.


          Starting in February, 1987 high school students in and around the capital of Paramaribo began to engage in peaceful demonstrations demanding democratic reforms, complaining of the critical state of the economy and protesting the lack of teaching materials. The marches were coupled with a student strike and were met by severe police repression.


          The Suriname Government’s National Institute of Human Rights (created by Decree A-18 on March 24, 1986) investigated the events of the week of February 17-20 at the Primary Technical School where the students protests began. The National Institute report, dated March 26, 1987, lays initial responsibility at the feet of anonymous “rabble-rousers” and then goes on to conclude that:


-                      the students were seriously beaten;

-                      in total disregard of the authority of the administration, students were barbarously abused in places where they sought shelter;

-                      the injuries have to be characterized as “serious abuse.”


          The National Human Rights Institute then recommended that the “Government should consider prosecuting and punishing the individuals who were responsible…” for the violations in question. The Inter-American Commission, for its part, intends to inquire regarding the Government’s will to implement this recommendation during its planned on-site visit in October.


          After prolonged negotiations between student leaders and the Government, classes were resumed in April, 1987. According to information received at the Commission, at least one student died during the various protests.


          An aspect of the existing malaise in Suriname is the lack of information available to the citizen about what is happening in his country. The only newspaper functioning in the country, De West, still operates under Decree 310 (in force since May 7, 1984) which limits freedom of the press. The other mass circulation paper, De Ware Tijd, has had to close for lack of paper. The country’s television station is owned by the Government and the several radio stations are subject to censorship. The censorship agency of the State is the Suriname News Agency (SNA). Restrictions on internal travel make reporting on national events almost impossible. In sum, a great sense of social insecurity stemming from lack of accurate, reliable news pervades the population and rumors are rife.


          Some critics of the regime such as Linus Rensch, a bush Negro and University Professor, who dared to speak out have been harassed and intimidated (Case Nº 9778). Professor Rensch had his passport taken and was told he was not allowed to leave the country. He was also forbidden to teach or publish. In response to the complaint in this case the Government argued that Professor Rensch’s publications were seditious and counterrevolutionary.


          With regard to political rights, there has also been movement in Suriname during the period covered by this report. On March 31 the National Assembly in which the military and the three traditional political parties (Suriname National Party – NPS, Progressive Reformed Party – VHP and the Indonesian Peasants Party – KTPI) and the major independent labor organizations (C-47, DeMoederbond, PWO, and the Government Workers Union CLO) and business organizations (among others) were represented, unanimously adopted a draft national constitution. The process of negotiation and study had been underway since 1985. The constitution will be the subject of a referendum scheduled for September 30 of this year to be followed by the election of a national assembly composed of 51 members. The timetable for the elections has been moved up to November 30, 1987.


          The national assembly in turn is to elect a President with broad powers.


          An ambiguous and disturbing provision of the new constitution establishes that “the National Army is the military vanguard of the people of Suriname (Art. 177).” The significance of this language is all the more important in light of the preponderant role played by the Army since the coup d’etat of 1980, and in particular, the leadership part assumed by the Commander of the Armed Forces, Lt. Col. Bouterse.


          During the past year Lt. Col. Bouterse has been variously quoted in the media during the last year as saying he did not intend to be a candidate for the presidency or, on other occasions, as being undecided. Nevertheless, it should be noted that his February 27th Movement, a bulwark of the present Government, converted itself formally into a political party in June, 1987 and is known as the National Democratic Party. The Party has indicated its intention of participating in the forthcoming national elections. No announcement has been made regarding who will be its candidate.


          On August 3, 1987 the first large public meeting of the three old traditional parties was held in Paramaribo. One estimate put the number of persons in attendance at 60,000 although this figure has been disputed by others. In any case the crowd was enormous, particularly in light of the relatively small population of the country as a whole.


          At the rally, the leaders of the three political parties urged their followers to use the upcoming elections to restore democracy to Suriname.


          This demonstration of political strength coincided with the creation of the so-called Front for Democracy and Development led by the three main political parties. The Front’s leaders, feeling their hand strengthened thereafter, met with Lt. Col. Bouterse. Following the meeting, Lt. Col. Bouterse announced his resignation as Chairman of the Supreme Deliberating Council, the top policy making organ of Government. At the same time, Commander Ivan Graanoogst, the current second in command of the Army, also withdrew from the Supreme Deliberating Council.


          These developments culminated in the so-called Leonsburg Agreement between the military and the political parties. The compromise worked out calls for recognition of joint responsibilities to work toward stability and national unity as a base for achieving true democracy. They also committed themselves to a continuing dialogue.


          In summary, the human rights situation in Suriname, in the view of the Commission, continues in a precarious state. Freedom of the press does not exist and the state of emergency has further eroded the flow of information and restricted other rights such as that of free association. The arbitrary detention of some dissidents continues to occur and there have been instances of serious abuses and mistreatment of citizens such as the case of students during protests.


          In the view of the Commission, the most serious violations of human rights during the period covered by this Report have been the treatment of the unarmed civilian Maroon and Amerindian populations in the eastern areas of the country. These have taken on truly alarming proportions.


          On the other hand, there has been an important positive aspect of the human rights situation in Suriname. The willingness of the Government of Suriname to invite the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to visit the country constitute a highly positive step forward.

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