SURINAME

 

          On December 22, 1990, Lt. Colonel Desi Bouterse resigned as head of the Armed Forces of Suriname.  But not for long.  Two days later his successor, acting Commander Ivan Grangoost, called then President Ramsewak Shankar by phone and ordered him and his cabinet to resign.  This taken care of, the new President, Johannes Kraag, reinstated Lt. Col. Bouterse to his former post on December 31, 1990.  At the same time new elections to the National Assembly were promised to be held within 100 days.  That date slipped a bit but 150 days following the coup d'etat elections were held under the scrutiny of international observers.

 

          The election observers included a team designated by the Secretary General of the OAS, Joao Clemente Baena Soares.  The OAS team arrived in Suriname in February and by election day, May 25, had grown to a hundred persons from 16 different member States.  The team continued its work until a new President, Ronald Venetiaan and his cabinet were installed on September 18.

 

          The elections spawned a number of novelties, the most notable of which was the creation of a new party called Democratic Alternative (DA91) which called for a new and closer relationship with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Suriname's mother country and former colonial master.

 

          Much of the pre-electoral debate in Suriname centered on the Prime Minister of Holland Lubbers' proposal that Suriname enter into a Commonwealth arrangement with the Low Countries aimed at reducing the role of the Surinamese Army in the political life of the country.  Other benefits were to include the elimination of travel restrictions such as visas, dual nationality and a monetary union between the two countries.

 

          In addition to the OAS, the elections were observed by representatives of the CARICOM states, Chile, Costa Rica and the European Community as well as such non-governmental human rights organizations as Americas Watch and Caribbean Rights.

 

          The general consensus of all observers was that the elections were free and fair and by and large efficiently conducted.  Means were even agreed upon to allow the almost 10,000 Surinamese refugees in French Guiana, mostly maroons driven from the country by Army repression in 1986, to participate in the vote.  This arrangement was made possible by an accord among the Governments of Suriname, France and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  Notwithstanding this, however, few maroons crossed the Maroni River to vote in Surinamese territory.

 

          On May 25 the overwhelming majority of Surinamese citizens of voting age went to 452 polling stations throughout the country to cast their votes.  The election results yielded several surprises.  First, the Front, a coalition of the three traditional political parties, the ethnic based VHP, NPS and KTPI1, saw their number of seats in the National Assembly  reduced from 40 to 30 out of total of 51.  On the other hand the principal beneficiaries of this erosion of power were the Army dominated NDP party and DA91.  These won 11 and 9 seats respectively.

 

          The Constitution of Suriname provides that the President and Vice-President shall be chosen by the National Assembly by a 2/3's vote.  If that percentage cannot be attained by any candidate, then the District Councils shall choose the officers and only 50% is required.

 

          Accordingly, after several months of impasse in the National Assembly, the Councils, dominated by the now titled "New" Front, took 80% of the provincial vote and thereafter installed NPS member, and former Education minister, Ronald Venetiaan as President and VHP member John Adhim as Vice-President of the Republic.

 

          One of the factors that contributed to the orderliness of the campaign was a truce established between the insurgent group, the Jungle Commando led by Ronnie Brunswijk and the Army (and its paramilitary surrogates, Tukayama Amazona, the Anguillas and the Mandelas) in March 1991.  Both parties swore an oath, called a sweri in the Saramacca language promising to end hostilities.  This was followed by a signed agreement in April in which all parties solemnly recognized the Government's right to govern the whole of Surinamese territory and their commitment to allow free transit of voters, observers and elections officials as well as to respect the results of the vote.

 

          Better yet, at the behest of Granman Songo Aboikani of the Saramaccan Maroons and the human rights organization Moiwana 86 led by Stanley Rensch, both Army and Jungle Commando troops withdrew from the eastern and south central regions of Suriname in May for the remainder of the campaign.

 

          In spite of all of these positive developments, the election period did not pass entirely unmarred.  Thus, Lt. Col. Bouterse continued to defend the

   

          Moreover, in April, members of DA91 complained that their organizers were being harassed by Army surrogate paramilitaries in the hinterland.  In the same month Lt. Col. Bouterse publicly critized the New Front and DA91, alleging ties with the United States intelligence agency, the CIA, as well as the Dutch Security agency.  In the same remarks he insisted on the Army's leading role in national politics and its duty to serve as police as well as customs and immigration agents.  Citing national sovereignty, he further critized the notion of a commonwealth relationship between Holland and Suriname.

 

          Finally, in an act of defiance and cynicism, Lt. Col. Bouterse personally met Major Etienne Boerenveen, his former second in command at Zanderij Airport, upon his return to Suriname, after having served a sentence of five years in a United States federal prison for drug trafficking.  Major Boerenveen was then promptly named to the post of Chief of the Army Security Service.

 

          In terms of the human rights situation in Suriname, the first thing to be noted is that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has received no complaints of alleged violations since President Venetiaan assumed office.

 

          On the other hand, nothing has been done to investigate and punish Army officers responsible for the most notorious violations in Suriname's history, namely the killing of 15 prominent Surinamese citizens in December of 1982.  The Commission has and continues to insist that a full accounting of this incident must be made.

 

          Nor has the Government of Suriname, past or present, taken any action to implement any of the recommendations made by the Commission in five resolutions published in its 1989 Annual Report, all of which dealt with violations of the right to life.  The same may be said with respect to the massive repression conducted by the Army in 1986 in the village of Moiwana and elsewhere which contributed to the mass exodus of Maroons and Amerindians to French Guiana and Paramaribo.  No compensation has been made to these persons, about 10000 of whom remain in refugee camps near St. Laurent, French Guiana.

 

          In connection with the two contentious cases taken to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San Josť under the American Convention, both involving violations of the right to life, Suriname's agent submitted a memorial in its defense as well as a series of alleged procedural objections.  These latter were dealt with at a public hearing before the Court on December 2, 1991.  At that time the Government recognized its state responsibility in one of the cases.

 

          In case No. 10.150 known as Aloeboetoe and Others v. Suriname, the Government admitted that Surinamese soldiers arbitrarily and summarily executed seven Maroons at a place near Pokigron in Southern Suriname on December 31, 1987.  In June, 1992, the Court will hear arguments regarding appropriate compensation to be paid to the victims' next of kin by the Government.  With respect to the prosecution and punishment of those who committed the violations, the Government was silent.

 

          In the second case, Gangaram Panday v. Suriname, No. 10.274, the Court rejected the Government's preliminary objections and ordered a hearing on the merits for June 23, 1992, in San Jose, Costa Rica.

 

          It should also be noted that the Government has also failed to investigate the murder of Police Inspector Herman Gooden, by all apparent accounts attributable to the Army.  The same can be said with respect to four Amerindians who disappeared in 1989 after being taken into custody by the Army.

 

          In addition, there was an incident involving the beating of three youths by soldiers on January 5, 1991.  According to reports made to the Commission, the boys were held in a clinic north of the capital and subsequently at Army headquarters at Fort Zeelandia.  There they were allegedly threatened with death although they were later released.

 

          On a more positive note the Commission has been informed that several members of the Army's security service in Nickerie were suspended following clashes with local police.

 

          In another incident reminiscent of the drive-by shootings of policemen in recent years by Surinamese soldiers, policeman Joel Owens, 26, was seriously wounded by a sniper on June 29, 1991.  The suspicious incident has yet to be investigated as far as the Commission has been able to determine.

 

          In the areas of freedom of assembly and religion there appear to be no problems in Suriname although there are reports of self-censorship by the local media.

 

          In summary, the Commission continues to be very concerned about the environment for human rights in general in Suriname and this concern is heightened by frequent reports of Army involvement in drug trafficking.  The issue, insofar as respect for human rights in Suriname is concerned, depends, as in years past, on the Army's submission to civilian constitutional authority.  This is essential for the development of true democracy and respect for human rights.  Unless the phenomenon of a state within a state is ended, democracy and human rights will not flourish in Suriname.  

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          1.          The VHP is the Progressive Reform Party constituted principally by Hindustanis of Indian, Pakistani and Sri-Lankan descendants.  The NPS is the creole party called the Suriname National Party.  The KTPI is the Indonesian Peasants Party.Christmas coup d'etat as a "constitutional intervention" although on May 8, 1991 he promised that the army would forego future coups.