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:
Article 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.
Article 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.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes in Article 20:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.
The pertinent articles of the International covenant on Civil and Political Rights are:
Article 21. The 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.
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 this 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 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.
3. 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
Notwithstanding 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.
The 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/
In 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.
During 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.
In 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.
General 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.
However, 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).
Subsequently, 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. economic distress.
Outside 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.
There 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.
As 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 country.
Since 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.
Union 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.
While 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.
Although 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.
Others 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.
In 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 strength.
Government 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.
However, 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.
While 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.
1/ On one public occasion Prime Minister Udenhout was asked
if he belonged to the February 25th Movement. He answered “no”. Shortly thereafter
he joined the Movement.