SECOND REPORT ON THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN SURINAME
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION AND TRADE UNIONS
A. Applicable International Law
The relevant provisions of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man are:
XXI. Every person has
the right to assemble peaceably with others in a formal public meeting or an
informal gathering, in connection with matters of common interest of any nature.
XXII. Every person has the
right to associate with others to promote, exercise and protect his legitimate
interests of a political, economic, religious, social, cultural, professional,
labor union or other nature.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes in Article 20:
Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
No one may be compelled to belong to an association.
The pertinent articles of the International covenant on Civil and Political Rights are:
right to peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on
the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law
and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interest of national
security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or
morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others,
including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of this
No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than
those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic
society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order,
the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and
freedoms of others. This article
shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on members of the armed
forces of the police in their exercise of this right.
Nothing in this article shall authorize States parties to the
International Labour Organization Convention of the right to Organize to take
legislative measures which would prejudice, or to apply the law in such a manner
as to prejudice the guarantees provided for in that convention.
B. Applicable Domestic law
Article 9 of the General Decree A-11 establishes the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly.
C. Freedom of Association and Trade Unions in Practice
its domestic laws and international obligations, all political parties, with the
exception of the February 25th Movement, are still banned in Suriname
as was true at the time of the IACHR’s 1983 report.
The Government of Suriname, however, insists that the February 25th Movement
is not a political party, but rather a national movement created to foster the
discussion of issues of national importance by the broadest sectors of society.
In any event, it is the only officially recognized political organization
in the country.
special commission heard from businessmen, civil servants and trade unionists of
attempts by the military and Movement activists to compel Surinamese citizens,
including Government officials, to join and financially contribute to the
February 25th Movement. Businessmen
viewed such membership as a guarantee against Government harassment and/or
robbery by military personnel. Civil servants complained that membership, in
certain cases, was mandatory as a form of job insurance.1/
1983, the IACHR found that those political organizations participating in the
Government were excluded from the ban on political parties.
Since the removal of small radical parties such as PALU from the
Government after Prime Minister Odenhout took office, their legal position is
presently not clear. The special
commission heard that they published party papers and had been invited by Lt.
Col. Bouterse to join the February 25th. Movement.
1984, former Primer Miniesters Henck Aaron and Jaggernath Lachmon, leaders of
the officially banned Suriname National Party (NSP) and the Progressive Reform
party (VHP), respectively, were consulted by the military on the National
Assembly process and met with Commander Desi Bouterse to discuss the
democratization program. On May 25, 1984, both men submitted a joint plan to the
military concerning the establishment of a National Assembly and the return to
democracy. However, neither party
is currently permitted to function in the country.
its interview with Commander Bouterse at the People’s Palace in Paramaribo on
January 17, 1985, the special commission raised the question of political
parties. Lt. Col. Bouterse assured the Commission that political parties would
be allowed to function once the national Assembly passed a Political Parties
law, expected to occur within the next 27 months, Lt. Col. Bouterse said that
this law would guarantee the existence of more than one party.
The only restrictions that Commander Bouterse foresaw on political
organization would be a prohibition against establishing political parties along
racial or religious lines. He
assured the special commission that parties of competing ideologies would be
allowed to participate in the national life.
Decree A-11 makes no reference to the freedom of trade unions. Yet, the freedom
of trade-unions and the recognition of their right to strike were specifically
established in Article 8 of the 1975 Constitution.
the Government of Suriname ratified the Workers’ representatives Convention
(1971) and Labor Relations (Public Service) Convention (1978) of the
International Labour Organization. The
Government of Suriname also issued two decrees protecting trade union rights:
the Decree on the Recognition of Workers’ Unions (1981, No. 163) and
Decree on Referendum Workers’ Unions (1982, No. 91).
the Government has guaranteed the protection and security of union leaders and
their right to conduct union business and prevented employers from dismissing
employees who are union organizers for so-called “urgent reasons”, i.e.
the military, trade unions are the most powerful political as well as
socioeconomic organizations in the country.
Over 75% of the work force of approximately 90,000-100,000 persons belong
to a union.
are four large trade union federations in Suriname:
1) De Moederbond, which is affiliated with the International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), has approximately 16,000 members in
the public, industrial and service sector.
2) C-47, which has no international affiliations, has between 12,000 to
15,000 members in the bauxite, metal-workers, agricultural and hotel sectors.
3) The Progressive Workers Organization (PWO), which is affiliated with
the World Confederation of Labor (WCL) and the Confederación Latinoamericana
de Trabajadores (CLAT), represents approximately 5,000 workers in the
agricultural, cement and trade sectors. 4)
The CLO which is affiliated to the IFFT and Infedop,
represents over 40,000 civil servants as well as sectors of the military, who
comprise nearly half the work force in the country.
our 1983 report indicated, there were serious attempts by the military beginning
in October 1982 to abridge trade union rights in Suriname.
Among the victims of the tragic events of December 1982 were Cyrill Daal,
the general-secretary of De Moederbond; E.A. Hoost, a founder and
official adviser to C-47; and L.P. Rahman, secretary of the Suriname brewery
Workers Union and President of the “Bosi” Health Inspection Union; Dr.
Gerard Leckie, then President of the Union of Scientific Personnel of the
University of Suriname was also arrested and executed.
Other union leaders and organizers fled Suriname and have not returned to
the IACHR’s last report, socioeconomic and political conditions in Suriname
have changed significantly. In the
meeting of the special commission with all the trade union federations, labor
leaders emphasized that the military and their former radical allies in
Government no longer attempted, except in rare cases, to infiltrate their unions
and take over the federations. After
December 1982, some trade unions felt it necessary to hold meetings outside the
capital. Now they claim they can meet without any prior notice and
without visible military or police presence.
leaders told the special commission that all collective bargaining negotiations
for the past year have been conducted without the interference of the Government
and that there has been no intimidation or harassment in those agreements, which
include the Government.
the Surinamese trade unions are stronger at present that they were when the
Commission last visited the country, they remain intimidated to the extent that
their leadership is less likely to adopt critical positions or openly confront
the Government on political issues as they did in 1980. 1981 and 1982.
No doubt some of this fear also is caused by the rapidly deteriorating
economic situation in the country.
trade union leaders admitted to making compromises with the military to take
positions in the Government and participate in the ¨Think Tank¨ and the
National Assembly, there was widespread agreement that such participation was
the only option left to those unions desiring a return to some form of
democracy. Attitudes among the
various labor leaders varied. Some
appeared to be genuinely optimistic regarding this political ¨opening¨ while
others seemed resigned to it as the only choice left to them at present.
expressed the opinion that their leadership, which had political ambitions in
the past, were not representing their membership, but the political parties to
which they formerly belonged. Some
trade union leaders practically admitted as much, remarking that perhaps
one-half of their membership objected to their participation in both the ¨Think
Tank¨ and the National Assembly. The
tensions within the trade unions were largely the result of members´ doubts
about the outcome of the National Assembly process.
trade union federations such as De Moederbond, where its senior
leadership either had been executed in 1982 or had fled the country, there have
been internal conflicts over whether to maintain its temporary leadership.
These disagreements and the leadership vacuum since December 1982 have
hindered the trade union movement from returning to its previous levels of
officials, trade union leaders and workers as well as the military admitted that
the December 1983 – January 1984 bauxite strike radically transformed the
political situation in Suriname. The
strike, which began at the Billiton bauxite works, initially was called to
protest the severe tax increases announced by the Government.
It escalated into calls for the resignation of the Government led by
Errol Alibux and an end to military rule. Eventually,
the strike took on a national dimension and affected most of the export-oriented
corporations. This process culminated in the change of government.
it should be emphasized that at no time did the leadership of the powerful trade
union federations support the strike initiated by the dissident workers.
In fact, it is understood that at least one federation attempted to
dissuade the workers from action.
Suriname has in many respects returned to its prior respectful recorded in terms
of trade union rights, the attitude of trade union leaders toward strikes and
confrontational actions indicates that trade unions are careful to act so that
the Government doesn´t construe their actions as a form of political
opposition. Exiled labor leaders remain reluctant to return to the country for
fear of their lives.
In May of 1985, the trade union federation considered most favorable to the military, C-47, resigned from both the Government and the National Assembly.