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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.