SECOND REPORT ON THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN SURINAME
FREEDOM OF THOUGHT AND EXPRESSION
A. Applicable International Law
The pertinent provision of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man is:
person has the right to freedom of investigation, of opinion, and of the
expression and dissemination of ideas, by any medium whatsoever.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes:
has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom
to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart
information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights concludes:
Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall
include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds,
regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of
art, or through any other media of this choice.
The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article
carries with it special duties and responsibilities.
It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only
be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
For respect of the rights and reputations of others;
b. For the protection of national security or of public order, or of public
health or morals.
B. Applicable Domestic Law
General Decree A-11 recognizes the freedoms of opinion and press.
In cases of doubt with regard to the stipulations of the preceding
article, the press and radio stations shall be obligated to consult with the
President prior to publishing or transmitting the item in question.
Foreign publications with content related to the legal authorities may be
published or transmitted only with the knowledge and approval of the Prime
The press and radio are not permitted to disseminate items contrary to
the law, public order or good behavior.
The press and radio shall not disseminate unverified items whose implicit
or explicit aim is to harm the good name of individuals or groups.
The Prime Minister shall supervise the compliance with these
Violations of these instructions by the press or radio may result in the
suspension or revocation of the offender’s license.
The above penalty will not be imposed until the alleged offender has been
heard. The hearing shall be held at
the place of the alleged offense and the alleged offender is entitled to the
services of legal counsel.
media guidelines are particularly worrisome to the Commission in the following
respects: a regimen of prior
censorship is established by the decree; the media are obligated to comply with
the State´s instructions on such matters; the penalties for violating the
instructions are determined by the executive branch without the accused being
entitled to legal recourse; and the determination of what constitutes national
security or ¨the legal authorities¨ shall be made not by an independent body,
but by the authorities themselves. The
Commission feels that as presently constituted these instructions like the May
7, 1983 Decree, constitute a flagrant violation of the freedom of expression.
conversations with the Government, officials assured the special commission that
Suriname enjoyed complete and total freedom of the press.
Major Doudel, the head of the National Information Agency (NVD), told the
Commission that the Government’s media policy is based on the idea of national
liberation or ¨developmental news.¨ The standard supposedly used by the
Surinamese Government is the recent declaration of the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) calling for ¨a new,
more just and more effective world information and communications order.¨
NVD, whose personnel are all military appointees, evaluates media performance
and its control and trains journalist. According
to Major Doudel, ¨The concept of
media is to further serve the economic and political interests of the
country…. We want to protect the people for national interests and for the
IACHR´s special commission found both a formal and an informal system of
censorship in the country.
of the news available to the non-official media is provided by the Suriname News
Agency, the Government news organization. According
to NVD officials, the media must receive foreign news from press agencies free
of Western influence. SNA, which
relies on Prensa Latina, Tass, ANN, the Nicaraguan news agency, Inter-press and
Agence France Presse, has a monopoly on all foreign news distribution.
The Commission verified that the media cannot broadcast or print news
about Suriname from abroad. This is
especially true of any news broadcast over Radio Netherlands.
print or broadcast news stories originating from abroad, the media must have the
Prime Minister personally stamp each article and sign his approval.
On domestic matters, where an editor is unsure whether covering approval.
On domestic matters, where and editor is unsure whether covering the
issue violates the instructions, he or she receives approval from the NVD to
publish or broadcast the article. Consequently,
radio stations and newspapers are severely reducing or eliminating their news
services because of the all-encompassing application of the concept of ¨national
all Surinamese media have been subsidized by the Government through paid
advertisements. Prior to 1980, this
policy was to encourage a diversification of news sources within the country. Since the disruption of the constitutional order and the
re-opening of selected media, the Commission has been able to verify that the
Government exerts considerable pressure on those media outlets most heavily
subsidized by the Government. Both
print and electronic media print official news stories and accede to the
military’s warnings not to print or broadcast stories concerning certain
national events as a matter of course for fear of financial hardship or the more
ext5reme pressure of physical harassment.
also face the additional burden of a shortage of newsprint.
For both political and economic reasons, the Government severely
restricts the quantity of newsprint and film materials needed for newspaper
production. Government control over
the behavior of newspapers is also enhanced by restricting licenses for the
importation of newsprint to three-month intervals.
A direct result of this is the drastic reduction of pages and papers
printed compared to circulation before 1980.
is also regulated by the instructions. The
only television station in the country is government-owned and operated.
While in the past there were independent journalists on the Government
channel, today none exists. While
news sources are more varied for television than other media, the NVD strictly
controls and edits the news. All
items concerning events in Poland and Afghanistan, for instance, are cut out of
most prevalent form of censorship the Commission found was self-censorship.
Owners, editors and journalist frequently remarked that the
all-encompassing restrictions put upon them force their news operations to
purposely avoid covering or commenting on events of any national importance.
A climate of fear and intimidation concerning the media prevails.
To avoid at all costs any confrontations with the military authorities,
the media simply censors itself.
to the special commission’s visit, Prime Minister Wim Odenhout chided the
press on its timidity, encouraging the media to cover events more boldly and to
resume the printing of editorials. Some
newspapers began rather indirectly to criticize the National Assembly process in
editorials but these soon stopped.
distrust by the unofficial media of the Government’s intentions seems borne
out by the case of Rev. Sebastiano Mulder, the editor of the Catholic weekly, Omhoog. The church newsletters De Kerbode of the Moravian
Church and Omhoog of the Catholic Diocese of Paramaribo sometimes speak
about social and human rights issues. On
February 10, 1985, Rev. Mulder printed an editorial severely criticizing ¨Operation
Clean Sweep¨, a Government action to deport several thousand Guayanese
immigrants. According to De West,
Rev. Mulder was summoned the following day by the Attorney General for a hearing
over his press coverage of the deportation of the Guyanese nationals.
In an official communiqué issued by NVD, it was reported that further
possible steps would be considered against the editor.
On the morning of February 12, 1985, Rev. Mulder was interrogated for
several hours by the authorities concerning his remarks about the methods by
which the immigrants were deported.
the Omhoog editorial appeared, the Moravian newslatter De Kerbode
also criticized the Government’s treatment of the illegal aliens.
Consequently, Lt. Col. Desi Bouterse in a press conference held on
February 16, 1985 and reported by De Ware Tijd charged that both church
newsletters were involved in ¨destabilization¨ and that ¨counter-revolutionaries¨
were at work in the criticism of the Government’s actions.
Later, Rev. Mulder was again brought in for questioning and subsequently
Commission notes that although Suriname has media guidelines emphasizing the
media´s duties and obligations to the State, there are no substantial parallel
guarantees concerning the freedom of expression.
the re-opening of the press, a generalized fear and intimidation of the
population still exists, albeit at lower levels than reported in the IACHR´s
1983 report. That climate prevents
the full exercise of freedom of expression.
This matter was repeatedly mentioned to the special commission by
Surinamese citizens from all walks of life.
area of concern in terms of free thought and expression has to do with the
University of Suriname, the public and only institution of higher learning in
special commission heard testimony concerning the situation at the University,
which was closed in December 1982 and was subsequently reopened the
Rector of the University is appointed by the Council of Ministers, who, in
addition, approve the appointment of professors at the university.
While the university is ostensibly autonomous, its budget must be
approved by the National Government. In
addition, the Steering Committee, which guides matters of curriculum and the
appointment of professors, admits it acts in accordance with certain political
principles. The special commission
heard that all heads of faculties are chosen by February 25th
March 14, 1984, the Government established a commission to develop a plan of
reorganization and administration for the university.
A little later, the commission was altered to include two military
members, who subsequently intimidated the remaining members who were
independent. Finally, Commander
Bouterse personally ordered the University Commission to discontinue its work
and sent representatives of the military to the university to convey the message
to its members.
a conversation with the Steering Committee chaired by Dr. Ernie Bruinings, the
special commission was told that the university has 70 full-time professors and
about 150 part-time teachers. In
all, there are 7 professors and 200 students left the university.
Most of the latter were students of medicine.
He said that some left because they could earn more money elsewhere.
The majority, however, in his view, left because they were ¨counterrevolutionaries.¨
He affirmed that the Steering Committee’s policy actions are guided by ¨progressive¨
political principles. He insisted
that there was freedom of thought and expression among faculty members and
students but recognized that the full time faculty in particular by and large
adhered to ¨revolutionary¨ thought.