The petition was lodged by the human rights organization Moiwana
’86 of Suriname on June 27, 1997, and concerns the extrajudicial
execution of more than 40 residents of Moiwana, a village belonging to
one of Suriname’s maroon communities, and the intentional destruction
of their property by members of the Army of that country. The petition
also addresses the failure to provide a fair trial with due process, and
compensation for those acts. The
State did not answered the Commission’s requests for information about
the petition. The
Commission after analyzing the petition and the fulfillment of the
requisites provided for the application of the American Declaration on
the Rights and Duties of Man (the “Declaration”) and the American
Convention on Human Rights (the “Convention”), decided to declare
the case admissible in respect to alleged violations of Articles I,
right to life, liberty and personal security; VII. right to protection
for mothers and children; IX. right to inviolability of the home; XXIII,
right to property; all of them of the Declaration; and Articles 8(1),
right to a fair trial; and 25(2) right to judicial protection, and
Article 1(1) Obligation to respect rights of the Convention.
PROCESSING BY THE COMMISSION
The Commission received the petition on June 27, 1997, and
transmitted it to the Government on October 30 of that year, requesting
a reply within the next 90 days. Faced
with the Government’s failure to reply, the Commission repeated the
request on two occasions, June 2, 1998, and February 25, 1999,
indicating that it would consider application of Article 42 of its
Regulations in the event no reply were received within the next 30 days.
To date the Commission has not received any response from the
POSITION OF THE PARTIES
By way of general background information, the petition says that
in 1980 a group of officers of the National Army of Suriname carried out
a coup d’état and their
leader, Desi Bouterse, declared himself Commander-in-Chief of the Army.
Those military officers proceeded to appoint a civilian
administration, which announced it would call elections.
However, no such elections were ever held and instead there
followed a period of serious and systematic human rights violations,
which were documented overall by the IACHR in several reports.
As specific background information, the petition mentions that in
1986 an armed opposition group (the “Jungle Commando”) was set up
with the support of Surnames exiles living in Holland and under the
leadership of Ronnie Brunswick, a former member of Desi Bouterse’s
guard. That group’s
initial activities were attacks on military posts in Eastern Suriname in
the territory of the Ndjuka maroons, the people to which Brunswick and
most of his armed followers belong.
The Army responded with extensive operations in the region and
with systematic and collective reprisals against the civilian maroon
population, alleging they were collaborating with the Jungle Commando.
Villages of maroons who belonged to other tribes and lived in
different regions were targeted for reprisal by the Surnames Army, which
killed between 150 and 200 civilians.
It should be recalled, inter
alia, that the IACHR documented
cases where the maroons had been made victims of forced starvation,
illegal cuts in benefits, and “ethnocide.”
The petition states with respect to the massacre and destruction
at the village of Moiwana, which is the principal subject of the
petition, that at the beginning of November 1986 the military commenced
a “cleansing” operation in Eastern Suriname, and ordered the
civilian population to evacuate the area.
For various reasons many did not leave.
The operation against the village of Moiwana and its outlying
areas began, according to the petition, on November 29, 1986, and was
carried out by a military unit made up of specially-trained men divided
into three groups, one of which launched a direct attack on the village.
This action started with the burning of the house belonging to
the rebel leader, Brunswick, and continued with the shooting of nearly
all the inhabitants, after which the village was burned.
At the same time the soldiers blew up a bus that was approaching,
killing all the occupants. After these events were over 40 people were dead, victims of
extrajudicial execution by government troops.
Some of the corpses that were taken to the morgue in Alfonsdorp
were incinerated next to the morgue building.
Toward the end of November 1986, the Government denied having
carried out any operations in the area.
According to the petition, in 1989 the Civil Police attempted to
carry out an investigation led by Police Inspector Herman E. Gooding,
who was murdered on August 4, 1990, after meeting with the Deputy
Commander of the Military Police, as documented in the report by the
His corpse was found next to the office of Commander-in-Chief
Bouterse. Several soldiers
were arrested by the Civil Police shortly after the Moiwana massacre,
but were released after the police were besieged by 30 armed Military
Policemen acting on the orders of Commander-in-Chief Bouterse.
In 1992, the Parliament of Suriname adopted a retroactive Amnesty
Law that canceled all proceedings related to human rights violations
committed from 1985 to 1991, except for crimes against humanity defined
by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of
Genocide (1948) and the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal of 1950
(Nuremberg Principles). According to the petitioners, the foregoing
means that the aforesaid Amnesty Law does not apply to the crimes of
On the question of the law, the petition alleges violation by the
Government of Suriname of Articles I, right
to life and personal security; VII, right
to protection for mothers and children; IX, right to inviolability of the home; and XXIII, right
to property of the American
Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (hereinafter the “American
Declaration”); Articles 8 (1), right to a fair trial; and 25(1) and
25(2), right to judicial protection of the American Convention on Human
Rights. The petition
further alleges violation of Article 3 of the Geneva Convention of
August 12, 1949; and Articles 4 and 13 of the Protocol Additional to the
forenamed convention, Relating to the Protection of Victims of
Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 1978, and of
international criminal law related to the prohibition and punishment of
crimes against humanity.
The petitioner pleads exception to the requirement of exhaustion
of domestic remedies based on the grounds contained in Article 37(2)(b)
and (c) of the Regulations of the IACHR, which refer, respectively, to
denial of access to the remedies
under domestic law or prevention from exhausting them, and to
unwarranted delay in rendering a final judgment.
The petitioners claim that the Attorney General and the President
of the Court are the only ones who could have ordered an investigation
and filed criminal charges against those responsible, but that neither
of them had opened a meaningful investigation into the Moiwana massacre,
nor adopted any measures either to implement the recommendations that
the Commission made in five decisions that it published in its 1989
Annual Report, or against the mass repression inflicted by the Army in
1986 in the village of Moiwana and other locations against Maroons and
Amerindians, which led to their exile en masse in French Guyana and
Paramaribo. The petitioner
alleges that the State has provided no compensation at all to any of the
victims, be they the residents of the village of Moiwana or the
refugees, 10,000 of whom were still living in refugee camps near St.
Laurent, in French Guyana at the time the petition was lodged.
The petitioners further assert that there was unwarranted delay
of justice in accordance with Article 37(c) of the Regulations of the
IACHR, given that the massacre took place on November 29, 1986, more
than 10 years before the petition was filed and yet the court had still
not issued a final decision. The
petitioners claim that prior to 1992, one could understand why the
civil, elected, and judicial authorities should have failed to
investigate and administer justice because the Armed Force were in
control and democracy was weak. They
contend that after that date such reasoning was no longer valid.
The petitioners report that in May 1993 a mass grave was found
containing a number of corpses of the victims from the village of
Moiwana, and that the Ministry of Justice and the police indicated that
the legal investigation and prosecution of the matter were not
priorities for that administration, and that the country’s economic
and social problems took precedence.
For its part, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Housing,
declared in a press conference at the time that the Moiwana massacre
must be deemed covered by the Amnesty Law that had been passed, and,
therefore, was not justiciable. By
the same token, the petitioners report that despite identification of
several of the corpses (of five to seven adults and two to three
children) in the grave as members of the Moiwana community, no measures
whatever were adopted.
petitioners also say that the Parliament of Suriname adopted in December
1995 a motion requiring the Executive Branch immediately to open an
investigation into several infamous violations committed during the
military regime, including the Moiwana massacre, but that no action was
taken either. The
petitioners also mention that they have repeatedly requested the
authorities to adopt measures on the matter, to no avail.
The petitioners state that under Surnames law, at the request of
a private claimant the Supreme Court, if the request is justified, is
required to ask the Attorney General to undertake an investigation into
the matter in question. Accordingly,
the petitioners made such a request and the President of the Supreme
Court informed them that he had solicited information from the Attorney
General but that the latter had not provided it to him.
The petition claims that the party that won the elections and
establishes judicial priorities is under the leadership of Desire
Bouterse, the military officer who headed the military regime that
carried out the alleged violations, for which reason it is unlikely that
the Government will adopt a different attitude.
The petitioners attach official documents, together with reports
on the situation supporting the foregoing allegations published
internationally by governments and non-governmental organizations.
For all these reasons they request that the exception to the
requirement to exhaust domestic remedies be accepted.
Notwithstanding repeated requests by the Commission made on
October 30, 1997, June 2,1998, and February 25, 1999, the latter
indicating that the Commission will consider the application of Article
42 of its Regulations if no answer were received within 30 days, the
State of Suriname did not reply to any of those requests for comments.
The Commission considers consequently that the State has not
controverted the facts alleged in the petition.
IV. ANALYSIS OF ADMISSIBILITY
personae, ratione materiae, ratione tempori and ratione loci of the
The petitioners claim that the State of Suriname violated rights
of the inhabitants of the village of Moiwana recognized in Articles I,
VII, IX, and XXIII of the Declaration; and in Articles 8(1), and 25(1)
and 25(2) of the Convention, by facts occurred in the Surnames territory
affecting natural persons under Suriname’s jurisdiction.
The Commission considers it is competent ratione
materiae, ratione personae and ratione loci in this case to analyze
the complaint in reference to presumed violations to the Declaration and
Suriname, as a member state of the OAS is bound both to the
Declaration since the beginning to its membership to the OAS on June 8,
1977; and to the Convention which it has ratified on November 12¸1987.
The original events that originated the petition, specifically
the alleged attack on the village of Moiwana and the extrajudicial
executions and other violations denounced, would have happened on
November 29, 1986, while the Declaration was in force in regard to
Suriname. In reference to
the Convention, the facts referring to its duty in respect to legal
guarantees and due process are of a continuous nature..
Therefore, the Commission is competence ratione
tempore with regard to those facts as per the competent given by the
In those matters specifically referred to the Declaration, the
Commission is competent to know the case because the allegations
referred to violations of rights recognized in its Article I (right to
life, liberty and personal security); VII (right to protection for
mothers and children); IX (right to inviolability of the home); and
XXIII (right to property) as indicated by Articles 26 and 51 of its
The Commission is also competent with respect to the Convention,
to examine the alleged facts that may constitute violation or continuous
denegation of justice as per Articles 8 and 25 (right to judicial
guarantees, and rights to due legal process) in relation with Article
1(1). By its ratification
of the Convention, Suriname assumed the duty to respect all rights and
freedoms recognized in the Convention and to guarantee its full and free
enjoyment to all persons under its jurisdiction
(Article 1(1)), including judicial guarantees and protection, as stated
in Articles 8 and 25. According
to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights this obligation implies the
duty of the State party to organize the governmental apparatus and, in
general, all the structures through which public power is exercised, so
that they are capable of juridical ensuring the free and full enjoyment
of human rights.
Consequently, the Commission has competence ratione
tempore to examine and decide the instant case, in relation to the
violations allegedly occurred before Suriname’s ratification of the
Convention, as well as in relation with the Convention in reference to
proceedings and activities or inactions by the State of Suriname as
continuing violations of Articles 8 and 25 of the Convention, in
relation with its Article 1(1).
The Commission considers as well necessary to examine the
admissibility in relation with the positive obligation indicated in
Article 1(1) of the Convention (obligation to respect the rights and
freedoms recognized and to guarantee its full and free exercise). In
that sense the Commission reminds what the Court has indicated:
While petitioners do not explicitly invoke violation of Article
1(1), either as positive obligation, and in relation to other Articles
recognized in the Convention that allegedly have been violated, the
Commission in consideration of the facts denounced considers it shall
examine the eventual violation of Article 1 to establish if the State of
Suriname has violated in the instant case its obligation to respect and
guarantee the rights to judicial guarantees and protection.
Other requirements for the admissibility of the petition
Exhaustion of domestic remedies
46 of the Convention stipulates that for a case to be admitted will be
required, “that the remedies under domestic law have been pursued and
exhausted in accordance with generally recognized principles of
international law.” However,
the Convention provides for exceptions to this requirement when the
domestic law does not provide de
facto or de jure remedies. Indeed,
Article 46(2) specifies that the above is the case when the domestic
legislation of the state concerned does not afford due process of law
for the protection of the right or rights that have allegedly been
violated; the party alleging violation of his rights has been denied
access to the remedies under domestic law or has been prevented from
exhausting them; or there has been unwarranted delay in rendering a
final judgment under the aforementioned remedies.
In the instant case, it emerges from what is documented by the
petitioner, and not challenged by the State, that, in practice, the
petitioner was denied access to those remedies; that the authorities in
charge of pressing forward proceedings failed even to institute them,
much less complete them; that the initial investigations, the basis for
possible remedies, were obstructed by agents of the State; and that an
Amnesty Law was interpreted by the authorities as relieving them of the
obligation to prosecute those responsible.
indicated by the Court, the exception to the rule of exhaustion of
domestic remedies results, following the principles of international
in the first place that this is a rule that may be waived, either
expressly or by implication, by the State having the right to invoke it
as this Court has already recognized ( see Viviana Gallardo et
al. Judgment of November 13,1981, Nº G 101/81, Series A, para. 26).
Second, the objection asserting the non-exhaustion of domestic remedies,
to be timely, must be made at an early stage of the proceedings by the
State entitled to make it, lest a waiver of the requirement be presumed.
invoked in their original complaint the exception to the requirement of
exhaustion of domestic remedies, based on the inexistence of an
effective remedy and in unjustified delay in the proceedings. Consequently, the burden of the proof to deny this statement
by the petitioners becomes a responsibility of the State. By not
answering the repeated requests for comments to the complaint, the State
has not controverted these allegations and renounced its right to oppose
this exception. The Commission concludes that the requirement in
relation with the exhaustion of domestic remedies has been satisfied in
the instant case.
Period for presentation of the petition
In the original complaint petitioner explained the reasons to
consider the presentation done within a reasonable period.
Petitioner alleged that the case was presented ten years after
the originating facts, an that during the first four years of that
period the Government was ruled or de
facto controlled by a military regime, reason that impeded the
initiation of the domestic remedies.
Moreover, the amnesty established by Parliament in 1987 had
voided the possibility for the victims to obtain due judicial
reparation. After 1991,
already under a constitutionally elected government, government
representatives declared in several opportunities their lack of interest
in pursuing their obligation to investigate and to prosecute those
responsible, and to make reparations to the victims.
Petitioner alleged that during all that period, representatives
of the victims made repeated attempts to spur the authorities into
action to no avail.
It is incumbent upon the State the burden of proof to deny those
allegations. The Commission considers that in the instant case the
conditions have been fulfilled in relation to the presentation within a
reasonable period as stated by Article 46(2) of the Convention, and
Articles 38(2) and 52 of its Regulations.
Duplication of proceedings
According to the record, the petition
is not pending in another international proceeding for settlement
as prescribed by Article 46(1)(c) of the American Convention, nor is it substantially the same as one previously studied by the Commission or by
another international organization in accordance with Article
47(d) of the Convention. The
State has not challenged the petition on grounds of duplication of
the Commission finds that there is no duplication of proceedings in the
Characterization of the facts to establish a violation
The alleged facts if proven, may characterize violations of
Articles I, VII, IX, and XXIII of the Declaration and Articles 8, 25,
and 1 of the Convention.
The Commission concludes that it is competent to examine the
instant case, that the petition is admissible, in conformity with
Articles 52 and 38(2) of its Regulations in what refers to the
Declaration and with same Article 38(2) in what refers to the
On the basis of the arguments of fact and law analyzed, and
without prejudging the merits of the matter,
INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS,
To declare the instant case admissible in relation to alleged
violations to Articles I, right to life, liberty and personal security;
VII, right to protection for mothers and children; IX, right to
inviolability of the home, of the American Declaration; and to Articles
8(1) right to a fair trial; 25(2) right to judicial protection, and 1(1)
obligation to respect the rights, of the Convention.
To transmit this report to the State of Suriname and to the
To continue with its analysis of the merits of the case.
To make itself available to the parties with a view to reaching a
friendly settlement of the matter based on the respect to the rights
recognized by the Convention and to invite the parties of the case to
answer about this possibility; and,
To publish this report and to include it in its Annual Report to
the OAS General Assembly.
Done and signed at the
headquarters of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in the
city of Washington, D.C., on the 7th day of the month of
March, 2000. (Signed:) Hélio Bicudo, Chairman; Claudio Grossman, First
Vice-Chairman; Juan Méndez, Second Vice-Chairman; and Commissioners
Marta Altolaguirre, Robert K. Goldman, Peter Laurie and Julio Prado
Reports on the Situation of Human Rights in Suriname, 1983 and 1985,
several resolutions (including those published in the 1988-89 Annual
Report, p. 123-54) and two cases before the Inter-American Court (Nº
10.150 and 10.274).
IACHR 1986-97 Annual Report, p. 263-65.
IACHR 1990-91 Annual Report, p. 497-98.
Cf. CIDH Case 11.516 Ovelario Tames. Report Nº 60/99, April 13th,
1999. Paras. 26 and 27. Annual Report 1998, Vol I, p.446.
The fact that Suriname had ratified the American Convention on
November 12, 1987, does not exempt it from the responsibility for
acts that violate human rights and that had ocurred before its
ratification, but are guaranteed by the American Declaration, which
has binding force, as per Advisory Opinion Nº 10, Inter-American
Court of Human Rights. Interpretation of the American Declaration on
the Rights and Duties of Man within the framework of Article 64 of
the American Convention on Human Rights. Serie A. Decisions and
I.A. Court HR. Godinez Cruz Case, Judgment of January 20, 1989,
Serie C. Nº 5 par. 175.
I.A. Court HR. Velásquez Rodríguez Case, Judgment of July 29,
1988, Serie C. Nº 4. par. 164.
Godinez Cruz Case, Judgment of January 20, 1989, Serie C .Nº
5 par. 175.
I.A. Court HR. Caso
Godinez Cruz, Preliminary Objections (Judgment of June 26,1987)
Series C.Nº 3 para. 90.