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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.