OEA/Ser.L/V/II.79.rev.1
Doc. 12
22 February 1991
Original:  Spanish

ANNUAL REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION
ON HUMAN RIGHTS 1990-1991

SURINAME

 

 

          On the evening of December 24, 1990 the Army of Suriname overthrew the elected Government of President Ramsewak Shankar and Vice-President Henck Arron in a bloodless coup d'etat.

 

          This action was prompted by a perceived slight of Army Chief, Lt. Col. Desi Bouterse, by President Shankar during a trip by both men to the Netherlands when President Shankar did not protest the Dutch immigration authorities' brusque treatment of the latter.  Lt. Col. Bouterse thereafter called the President a "joker" and "resigned" as Commander of the Army.  The man who nominally conducted the coup was the Air Force commander, Ivan Graanoogst, who promptly promised elections within 100 days.

 

          In the days that followed the coup, the President and his cabinet handed in their resignations and the National Assembly selected Johan Kraag and Jules Wijdenbosch as president and vice-president, respectively.  Johan Kraag, 77 years old, is a former government minister and Wijdenbosch, who once served as premier, is the leader of the National Democratic Patry (NDP) founded in 1987 by Lt. Col. Bouterse.

 

          One of the first actions of the new government was to reinstate Lt. Col. Bouterse as Commander in Chief of the Army.  Lt. Col. Bouterse thereupon publicly defended the coup d'etat as a "constitutional intervention".

 

          In the meantime, an emergency session of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States was held in Washington, D.C. on December 28, 1990 at the request of the Government of Venezuela (which subsequently broke diplomatic relations with the Government of Suriname).  The Permanent Council for its part adopted a resolution to "categorically repudiate the military coup in Suriname, which thwarts the fundamental right of the people of that country to live in a system of freedom and democracy."  In addition, the Permanent Council resolved "To issue an appeal for the reestablishment of the democratic institutional order and the avoidance of any act that could aggravate the situation and impair the full enjoyment of human rights."

 

          The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also condemns the military overthrow of the constitutionally elected Government of Suriname as a flagrant violation of Article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights, the so-called Pact of San Josť, which defines political rights of voters and elected officials as human rights.  (Suriname had freely ratified the American Convention in 1987.)

 

          The recent coup in Suriname has resulted in the political isolation of the country and a worsening of the already grave economic situation.  Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to examine these events in a vacuum and fail to take into account their historic context.

 

          Since the coup d'etat of 1980 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has followed the human rights situation in Suriname very closely.  Following the still uninvestigated and unpunished murders of fifteen prominent civilian leaders in 1982 by members of the National Army, the Commission has published two special reports on Suriname and conducted four on-site human rights investigations in that country.  In addition, the Commission has annually reported on human rights in Suriname in its Annual Reports to the General Assembly of the OAS.

 

          So in 1988-89, for instance, the Commission adopted and published five resolutions on specific cases involving numerous victims whose right to life was violated by the National Army.  Aside from a general statement of intent by the Government regarding its plans to assist persons affected by civil strife in that country, the Commission has not been informed whether any specific steps have been taken to implement the Commission's resolutions in those cases in terms of investigating, prosecuting, and punishing the military personnel responsible for the violations and indemnifying the victims' dependents for these losses of life.

 

          In August of this year the Commission took two cases against Suriname to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.  (Suriname had voluntarily accepted the obligatory jurisdiction of the Court in 1987 when it ratified the American Convention on Human Rights.)

 

          The first case (No. 10.150) involves the summary execution of seven Maroons (descendents of escaped slaves and Surinamese citizens) by a squad of soldiers in the south-central part of the country near the town of Pokigron in December, 1987.

 

          The second case (No. 10.274) deals with the murder of a Surinamese citizen of Hindustani origin who died while in military police custody at Zanderij Airport outside of the capital, Paramaribo, in October of 1988.

 

          In both cases the Commission, following on-site investigations of the matters, concluded that there had been violations of the victims' rights to life by Government agents and has asked the Court to fix appropriate compensation and to order other measures it deems necessary to assure that there will not be a recurrence of these human rights violations.  The cases will be litigated before the Court in 1991.  The Government recently retained a lawyer to represent it during the proceedings.

 

          In last year's Annual Report the Commission found, inter alia, that "the Army is the de facto power in the country" and that "it acts with impunity, violating the human rights of citizens, be they policemen, civilian leaders, Bush Negroes (Maroons) or Amerindians, when it considers it to be expedient."  The Commission sees no reason to alter this general conclusion in light of the events that have transpired since issuing its last report.

 

          The periods of 1990-91 covered by the present Annual Report have been characterized by a continuing low intensity conflict between the Army and a small group of Maroon guerillas known as the Jungle Commando.  In effect a sort of stalemate has prevailed during the past year punctuated by a small number of significant and violent outbursts.

 

          Thus, clashes between the Army and the Jungle Commando in July and August of 1990 at Langatabiki and Marowijne respectively, prompted a new wave of refugees, many of them economic, to flee to neighboring French Guiana where refugee camps near St. Laurent already house nearly 10,000 persons, mostly Maroons and some Amerindians who fled Army repression in 1986 and 1987.  The outflow of refugees is further hastened by malaria of epidemic proportions in south-eastern and south-central Suriname where Government health services that existed prior to the civil war have been reduced to the point of non-existence.

 

          In addition, around twenty Maroon houses were burned down by the Army in the months of September-October at Botopasi in the Siliwipini District.  The former Saramaccan inhabitants were promised new houses by the Army but to date none have been built.  There were no reported deaths.

 

          Likewise, the past year has seen continued hostility between the Army and the civilian police force.  In September 1990 the head of the police, Inspector Herman Gooding, was taken from his car, approximately 100 meters from Army headquarters at Ft. Zeelandia in downtown Paramaribo, shot in the head, and dumped on the ground.  This prompted a general police strike that lasted several months, thereby undoing the effect of recent legislation which stripped the military police of their police powers over civilians in the urban areas of the country.  Two members of Inspector Gooding's team, meanwhile, have fled to the Netherlands.

 

          The Commission has received no information that those responsible for Inspector Gooding's death have been brought to justice.

 

          The lack of investigation, prosecution, and punishment of persons responsible for apparently political murders has continued throughout the past year.  For example, the killing of two of Jungle Commando leaders (Stewart Deel and John Apai, a.k.a. Doltge), Ronnie Brunswijk's bodyguards, in early 1990, by military personnel at Ft. Zeelandia while Mr. Brunswijk and Lt. Col. Bouterse were negotiating has not been investigated.  (The alleged gunman in that incident, Christopher Rupert, was just named Minister of Defense in the Government of Johan Kraag.)  Similarly, the four alleged anti-Army Amerindians who fled in early 1990 to Guyana, were returned by the Guyanese authorities to the Suriname Army and subsequently disappeared under the most suspicious circumstances has never been satisfactorily explained.  The Government, when queried, merely indicated that its investigation continues.

 

          With respect to human rights monitors, the Commission has been informed that Stanley Rensch, a leading Suriname human rights advocate, returned to his home country on October 6, 1990, after having fled to Holland following a late night attempt on his life at his home in December of 1989.  (Practically his entire family has been granted political asylum in the United States.)  Nevertheless, Mr. Rensch who was out of Suriname at the time of the Christmas coup has still not returned to Suriname.

 

          Suriname became the first member state of the Organization of American States to ratify the Additional Protocol on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (the Pact of San Salvador) when it deposited its instrument of ratification with the General Secretariat on July 10, 1990.

 

          At the same time, it should be noted that during the period covered by this report, the Commission received no complaints of torture or arbitrary detention of civilians.  Likewise, the mails are generally respected and freedom of transit is limited only in conflict zones and at periodic military check points outside of the urban areas.

 

          Non-governmental human rights organizations report that freedoms of assembly and association and religion are respected in Suriname although the country's national media practice self-censorship.  This is reflected in the paucity of investigative reporting regarding the kind of events listed above.  In recognition of the real power situation in the country, the press freely criticized the civilian political leadership of the country but rarely if ever the leadership of the Army.

 

          This leads us back to the core of the human rights problem in Suriname.  Prior to the December coup the situation was described as a "holding pattern," "quiescent but precarious" or a "rest period" by various Surinamese observers, a time of apparent calm with on-going but sporadic warfare between the Army and the Jungle Commando, the Army and the civilian police, and the Army and certain Amerindian sectors.  The democratically elected civilian Government was not able to control its Army, the latter having usurped the Government's proper authority in dealing with the nation's problems.

 

          The Commission, furthermore, is very disturbed by reports that the Army is training "friendly" groups of paramilitary militia consisting of members of the so-called Tucayama Amazons (Amerindians) and Mandela (Maroon) groups at Ayoko Caserne, an Army base near Zanderij Airport.  Equally disturbing is the practice of allowing poorly trained soldiers to take their weapons home with them when they are off duty.  Given this practice and the severe economic situation in Suriname, it is not surprising that there has been an increase in armed robberies in which military personnel are the suspected culprits.

 

          Further, given the inefficacy of ordinary law enforcement, there is a sense of lawlessness and insecurity that is new and unsettling in normally law abiding Suriname.

 

          The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights calls on the Surinamese Government and its armed forces and insists that Suriname abide by its international human rights obligations.  Those obligations, freely assumed by Suriname, are contained, inter alia, in the American Convention on Human Rights.  This inter-American human rights treaty defines political rights of citizens both to vote as well as stand for office in democratic elections.  The Army of Suriname has violated the political rights of all Suriname's citizens.  The inter-American community is well aware that the removal of President Shankar's government was not a "constitutional intervention," i.e. a legal intervention.  Rather it was a crude illustration of the power reality in the country, one in which raw military force lurked behind a facade of constitutional democracy.  The holding of new elections, while important, will be meaningless, however, if a new government is chosen but not able to govern in a real sense.

 

          The Inter-American Commission urges, in the strongest terms it can invoke, that the Government promptly restore respect for all human rights, particularly political rights, in Suriname.  The Commission reiterates what the XX General Assembly declared:

 

          That the system of representative democracy is fundamental for the establishment of a political society wherein human rights can be fully realized and that one of the fundamental components of that system is the effective subordination of the military apparatus to civilian power.

 

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