University of Minnesota

Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Suriname, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.61, Doc. 6 rev. 1 (1983).





A. General Considerations

1. In this chapter, the Commission presents a summarized view with regard to the situation of some civil and political rights established in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, which have not yet received special attention in this report but which, as the Commission was able to verify during its visit to Suriname, present problems.

2. In the Commission's judgment, these problems primarily affect the right to personal integrity; the right to justice and due process; the right to opinion, expression and dissemination of thought; the freedom of association and trade unions, and political rights.

3. Although the Commission has not conducted a detailed study of the economic, social and cultural rights situation, based on its on-site visit, it can point out that the present government has been making efforts in that respect. The above notwithstanding, the Commission must express its concern for the situation of the University of Suriname, which has been intervened by the authorities resulting in its increasing politicization. The Commission intends to closely follow the developments at that educational institution.

B. The Right to Personal Integrity 1

4. During its stay in Suriname, the Commission gathered overwhelming evidence of signs of torture in the 15 bodies of the persons killed on December 8th, 1982.

5. The Commission's on-site visit to several detention places, as well as the evidence gathered, allowed it to verify the generalized existence of arrests accompanied by beatings and cruel treatment, particularly during the first days of deprivation of liberty. At the same time, the Commission was able to verify the nonexistence of a systemized practice of torture. On its visits to Fort Zeelandia, the Memre Boekoe compound and the Santo Boma Penitentiary, the Commission was also able to substantiate the existence of adequate prison conditions, dignified and humane treatment of the inmates by the guards and the concern of those responsible to maintain good conditions in the aforementioned establishments.

C. Right to Justice and Due Process 2

6. In addition to what is established in the American Declaration, Article 2, paragraphs 3, 9, 14 and 15, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights refers to judicial guarantees. These include, among others: the right to legal counsel, presumption of innocence, the right of all persons accused to a public and impartial hearing and to be tried by courts previously established.

7. The death of lawyers John Baboeram, Kenneth Gonsalves, Eddy Hoost and Harold Riedewald, some of whom were defending persons accused by the government, as contributed to the creation of a climate of fear in the legal profession. The Commission was able to verify, through diverse testimony, the existing climate of fear among lawyers in Suriname, one of the manifestations being the impossibility of forming a new board of directors of the Bar (whose previous Dean was Gonsalves). Nor has it been possible to find lawyers in the country willing to take cases of persons deprived of their freedom by the government. In the case of Mr. Hardjoprajitno , former Minister, who was arrested in January of this year, no lawyer has taken his case. In the same manner, the government has not provided counsel. Mr. Hardjoprajitno, with whom it was possible to talk in prison, stated that all the lawyers approached by family and friends declined to defend him, manifesting their fear of taking the case due to the events of December of 1982. Three of Mr. Horb's bodyguards, with whom the Commission was able to meet in their detention place in Fort Zeelandia where they have been since January, have also not been able to obtain counsel.

8. Of particular importance to the force of minimal judicial guarantees has been the situation created by General Decree A-7A, of March 11th, 1982 (Staatsblad 1982, No. 51). Decree A-7A was approved after Sergeant Hawker was executed. By virtue of that decree military personnel and civilians who individually or collectively, during time of war or state of siege, attempt to overthrow by force the legitimate military or civilian authority, will be tried first by the "cadres of the national army". These can, after hearing the accused, sentence him to death or decide that the accused e placed under Military Court. The decision to impose the death penalty is mandatory and unappealable. The death penalty is carried out by firing squad. Decree A-7A constitutes a flagrant violation of the international obligations of Suriname deriving from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and also, with regard to minimum judicial guarantees relating to the right to life.

Article 4 of that Covenant specifies that Article 6 is nonderogable under any circumstances. That article stipulates that:

1. Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.

2. In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with law in force at the time of the commission of the crime and not contrary o the provisions of the present Covenant and to the Convention on the Prevention and punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgement rendered by a competent court.

3. When deprivation of life constitutes the crime of genocide, it is understood that nothing in this article shall authorize any State Party to the present Covenant to derogate in any way from any obligation assumed under the provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

4. Anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence. Amnesty, pardon or commutation of the sentence of death may be granted in all cases.

5. Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age and shall not be carried out on pregnant women.

6. Nothing in this article shall be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any State Party to the present Covenant.

9. To this, it should be added that even in time of war the authorities are obligated to apply Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions, ratified by Suriname.

10. In spite of the obligations assumed by Suriname in accordance with the Covenant, and the Geneva Conventions, when applicable Decree A7-A does not stipulate for the accused: the right to legal counsel, competent court, possibility of amnesty or pardon or commutation of sentence. The only established guarantee, that the accused be heard, is flagrantly insufficient in light of the prescribed international obligations.

11. The Commission also wishes to express its concern with the fact that although judges have not yet been removed in Suriname and that there has been no interference with justice in non-political cases, the derogation of the provisions of the 1975 Constitution which established the irremovable character of judges, creates a situation which endangers the independence of the judicial power. This situation has become more serious since Decree C-64, which put the nomination of judges under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Political Center. In addition to this is the fact that crimes relating to the security of the State are no longer under the jurisdiction of Regular Courts of Justice but under Military Courts. The final decisions on proceedings instituted under Military Courts cannot be appealed to the courts but must be appealed to the High Military Court whose members are named by the President and proposed by the Military Authority. During the Commission's visit to the Supreme Court, its current President indicated that the civil courts are totally prevented from hearing matters relating to the State security.

D. Freedom of Opinion, Expression and Dissemination of Thought 3

12. Article 8 of General Decree A-11 of March 25th, 1982, established that all persons have the right to freedom of opinion and that freedom of the press is recognized. This same right is also established in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

13. Despite the aforementioned provisions the freedom of opinion expression and dissemination is severely limited in Suriname.

14. At the time this report was being prepared, there was only one newspaper being published in Suriname--the De Ware Tijd. It was subjected to prior censorship, which the Commission was able to verify directly--and was under the obligation to publish the news provided by the government, has become an organ of official propaganda. All other press organizations have been suppressed. This situation has been the culmination of a process which began with the interruption of the constitutional order on February 25th, 1980. From that moment on, and in an increasing manner, a system was established which prohibited publications relating to the government or the armed forces without previous authorization, the obligation to publish news or commentaries based on orders from different civilian and military authorities, the arbitrary arrests of editors and reporters for different periods of time. This process has taken place in spite of legal provisions in force--which guarantee the freedom of opinion-and without the possibility of legal appeals. It has culminated in the present situation where all non-official press organs have been closed.

15. In the same manner, non-official radio stations have been closed down by the military. In addition, attempts against the freedom of the press have acquired increasingly brutal characteristics. During the tragic events of December 8th, 1982, four reporters critical of the government were killed. The government set fire to two radio stations, ABC Radio and Radika, and the offices of a newspaper, Vrije Stem. Moreover, the Commission verified that the firefighters received orders from the authorities to not put out the fires.

16. These events have created a situation of extreme seriousness in the country, resulting in the generalized fear of the population, unable to exercise their right to opinion, expression and dissemination, a matter enounced to the Commission by former politicians, union leaders, religious authorities and the general public.

17. The aforementioned situation has acquired a new dimension with the announcement in the newspaper De Ware Tijd on May 7th, 1983, of the approval of a new decree by virtue of which, and with the objective of maintaining the public order and national security, the importation, transportation, distribution, sale, possession, production or reproduction of certain written materials is prohibited.

18. The Council of Ministers must yet establish what written materials are prohibited. The violation of this decree carries a penalty of fine or prison. Although, to date, the decree has not been enacted and the Council of Ministers has not determined what written material is involved, the Commission feels--as it stated to the Minister of Justice--that, if enacted, this decree could constitute a flagrant violation of the respect for the freedom of opinion. The Commission calls attention to the fact that the aforementioned decree prohibits even the simple possession of written material that the government may consider dangerous to national security.

E. Freedom of Association and Freedom of Trade Unions 4

19. Article 19 of General Decree A-11 recognizes the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

20. In addition to the American Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Articles 21 and 22, also recognizes the right of peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of association.

21. In spite of the aforementioned provisions, non-official political parties are still banned in Suriname. That measure does not apply to those political organizations which participate in the present government of the country. Such is the case of PALU, a group which did not obtain a single seat in the 1977 elections and to which several prominent members of the current government belong.

22. With regard to the freedom of trade-unions, General Decree A-11, which could be the Statute of Basic Rights and Duties of the people of Suriname, does not make specific reference to this right. Yet, the freedom of trade-unions and the recognition of the right to strike were specifically established in Article 8 of the 1975 Constitution.

23. However, from the standpoint of its international obligations, besides being bound by the American Declaration, it is also obligated by Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The latter establishes, among other things, that:

1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

2. 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 he interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the right and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on members of the armed forces and of the police in their exercise of this right.

24. In spite of the aforementioned legal provisions, there have been serious attempts against the freedom of labor unions in Suriname. Those actions have intensified beginning in October of 1982.

25. On that date, Cyrill Daal, chief of Moederbond, the union which had the most members, was arrested during a peaceful labor demonstration calling for the return to democracy. Shortly afterwards, Daal was one of those who was killed. Furthermore, the Moederbond headquarters were destroyed by the military on that same date. In the climate described, numerous labor leaders have been forced to leave the country. The Commission received repeated claims by former labor leaders relating to the nonexistence of their rights and the prevailing fear about carrying out their activities.

F. Political Rights 5

26. In addition to the American Declaration, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights refers to political liberties in Article 25. That Article states that:

5. Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in Article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:

a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;

b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;

c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.

27. In spite of the previous provisions, General Decree A-11, does not contemplate either a chapter or a specific provision relating to the political rights of the people of Suriname. In summary, the chapter on social rights and obligations of the aforementioned Decree includes Article 15 which states that in order to achieve true democracy the state will promote the organization of the people along regional and sectorial lines. The present government has promoted the creation of militias and popular committees and other similar citizens groups.

28. However, in spite of Surname's international obligations in terms of political rights, the people still do not exercise those rights. Elections are not held by universal and secret suffrage, and the participation of all citizens in the governance of the country is not guaranteed.

29. This situation was again criticized in Suriname by the Association for Democracy, created on December 17th, 1982. This Association was integrated by the Committee of Christian Religions, the Hindu Religious Community Sanalan Dharm, the Hindu Religious Community Aryans, Madjlis, Muslimin Suriname, the Muslim Association of Suriname, the Business Association of Suriname, the Manufacturing Association of Suriname, the Bar Association of Suriname, the Press Administrators and Chief Editors' Association, the Central Organization of Agricultural Unions, the National Women's Council of Suriname. On December 2nd, the Lawyers Association joined the above.

30. Shortly before this, on December 15th, 1982, while commenting on the country's situation, Commander Bouterse announced that those organizations which aspire to be consulted and participate in the governance of the country, had to comply with requisites, which would be later formulated, of popular democracy.

31. In an open letter to Commander Bouterse on November 23, 1982, The Association for Democracy called on the military to remove itself from politics. The Association rejected the totalitarian philosophy that only the opinions of government leaders are decisive, thereby excluding from participation those who do not agree with them.

Furthermore, the Association warned that taking into account the historical and cultural characteristics and the political maturity of the country, the present policies would have to assume repressive forms without precedent.

32. Shortly thereafter, the tragic events of December 8th would take place in which several prominent figures of the Association would die.

33. In the presentation of the program of Government for 1983-1986on May 1st, 1983, the government reiterated and explained more completely Commander Bouterse's plan with regard to the political future of the country and the exercise of political rights.

34. In that Program, the previous parliamentary system was characterized as decadent and without sense and it postulated the need to develop institutions through which the population could exercise real influence and control political power.

35. Two institutions are proposed in that Program, the National Democratic Congress and the Central Council of State.

36. The first one will be formed by representatives from mass organizations. It will be democratically selected and it is conceived as a forum of patriots to advise the government.

37. The Central Council of State will be formed by high government officials, military officers, members of the National Democratic Congress and administrative officials. T will have the power to sanction the program of government and the budget.

38. In accordance with the Program both institutions could be established before the end of 1984. Special committees will be designated to prepare the necessary projects to establish them.

39. This previous institutional development would be, among others, the necessary base for the creation of a Constitutional Committee, to be installed during the current government's term to draft a new Constitution.

40. In the proposal of institutions in the Program of Government the recognition of the right to universal and secret suffrage and the right to effectively participate in the conduction of public affairs of the country for all the citizens of Suriname is not unequivocally stated.

41. The aforementioned Program of Government neither ensures the democratic participation in the creation of special committees in charge of drafting the institutional projects which are so important to the political destiny of the country, nor does it refer to the need of popular approval of those projects. It should also be added, that during its stay in Suriname, the Commission received repeated testimony on pressure applied (among others), by Popular Committees to force individuals to participate in them or to collaborate in different ways, including attending official acts.

42. As the Commission has stated in its other reports, the right to tae part in the government and participate in honest, periodic, free elections by secret ballot is of fundamental importance for safeguarding human rights. The reasons for this lies in the fact that, as historical experience has shown, governments derived from the will of the people expressed in free elections, are those that provide the soundest guarantee that basic human rights will be observed and protected.

The American States have reaffirmed in the Charter of the Organization of American States that one of the guiding principles upon which their solidarity is based requires that the political organization of those States be based on the effective exercise of representative democracy. Other international instruments on human rights, such as the Pact of San Jose of Costa Rica, have recognized the right of every citizen to take part in the conduct of public affairs, to vote and to be elected in genuine periodic elections, which shall be by universal equal suffrage and by secret ballot that guarantees the free expression of the will of the voters.

At the same time, the General Assembly of the OAS, reiterated to its Member States that have not yet don so to reestablish or perfect the democratic system of government, in which the exercise of power derives from the legitimate and free expression of the will of the people, in accordance with the particular characteristics and circumstances of each country.

For its part, the Commission has maintained that within the alternative forms of government that constitutional law recognizes, the framework of a democratic regime should be the fundamental structure for the full exercise of human rights.

In this context, governments have, in the face of political rights and the right to political participation, the obligation to permit and guarantee: the organization of all political parties and other associations, unless they are constituted to violate human rights; open debate of the principal themes of socioeconomic development; the celebration of general and free elections with all the necessary guarantees so that the results represent the popular will.

As demonstrated by historical experience, the denial of political rights or the alteration of the popular will may lead to a situation of violence.

In the eyes of the Commission, it is unacceptable for some governments to maintain themselves in power indefinitely, to continue prohibiting the exercise of political rights and to repress arbitrarily any dissent.



1 The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man establishes the right to personal safety and integrity in Article 1: "All human beings have the right to life, liberty and safety of their persons". Article XXV, relating to protection from arbitrary arrests, establishes that all individuals have the right to humane treatment while deprived of their freedom. And Article XXVI, relating to due process, establishes that all persons accused of a crime have the right not to be inflicted cruel, infamous or unusual punishment.

2 Article XVIII of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man states: "All persons may resort to the courts in order to exercise their rights. At the same time, there must be a simple and brief procedure by which the law protects them from actions by the authorities which violate any of the fundamental rights constitutionally recognized". Article XXVI adds: "All accused persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty. All persons accused of a crime have the right to a public and impartial hearing, to be tried by courts previously established in accordance with preexisting laws and not be subjected to cruel, infamous or unusual punishment."

3 Article 4 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man states that: "all persons have the right to the freedom of research, opinion and expression and dissemination of thought by whatever means".

4 Article XXI of the American Declaration establishes that: "All persons have the right to peacefully assembly with others, in public demonstration or transient assembly, in relation with their common interests, whatever their nature". Article XXII states that: "All persons have the right to associate with others to promote, exercise and protect their legitimate interests whether political, economic, religious, social, cultural, professional, labor or of any other nature".

5 Article XX of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man establishes that: "All persons, legally able, have the right to take part in the government of their country, directly or through their representatives, and to participate in popular elections which will be genuine, free, periodical and by secret ballot". Article XXI states: "All persons have the right to peacefully assembly with others, in public demonstration or transient assembly, in relation with their common interests, whatever their nature". Article XXII states: "All persons have the right to associate with others to promote, exercise and protect their legitimate interests whether political, economic, religious, social, cultural, professional, labor or of any other nature".


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