University of Minnesota

Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Suriname, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.66, Doc. 21 rev. 1 (1985).




1. General Aspects

A. Economic Situation

Compared to most other countries in the region Suriname has enjoyed relative affluence during the post World War II era. This is apparent even to the casual visitor. The size and quality of most of the housing, the number of cars, vans, motorcycles and trucks all bear witness to the economic energy of the people. Thus when Suriname gained its independence in 1975, it already enjoyed a high level of development. In 1983 the per capita gross national product was $3,382.01.1/

Nevertheless, prosperity in Suriname is a fragile thing. To a great extent this is due to an excessive reliance on one resource – bouxite (and to a lesser extent alumina) - and one industry, the mining and processing of these ores.

In recent years low world prices for bauxite and its derivatives have had a tremendous impact on Suriname´s economy. To this must be added heavy foreign competition especially from producer countries where bauxite is significantly easier to mine. Despite these problems, however, the bauxite, industry employs 7,000 workers and provides some 80% of the country’s foreign exchange.

To enhance its understanding of the economic reality of Suriname, the special commission of the IACHR visited the aluminum plants of Suralco and Billiton where it interviewed both managers and workers.

The economic situation would be difficult enough but man-made errors have compounded the problems. So in 1982, after the murder of the fifteen citizens, the Government of the Netherlands suspended and aid contract that had been in force since independence and which assured Suriname of $110 million per year for fifteen years – close 50% of the national budget. At the same time the Government of the United States suspended economic assistance worth $1.5 million per year.2/

The depressed state of the bauxite industry and the cut-off of foreign aid has meant that the Government has had to adjust its domestic economic program. The Government’s own development plan for 1982-1985 has gone largely unfulfilled due to a lack of hard currency reserves.

Unemployment was estimated to be 17% in 1980 and 15% in 1982.3/ The figures for 1985 are not available but with the limitations on imports, the closing of a number of businesses, the lack of foreign exchange and the generally depressed bauxite industry, one can reasonably suppose that this figure is presently much higher, this is spite of the fact that Government Civil Services accounts for 42% of the work force. The same generalization can be made with regard to the phenomenon of underemployment.

B. Social Situation

Suriname´s population is a rich mix of races and persons of different ethnic origins. It is estimated that there are about 350,000 Surinamese in the country and between 150,000 – 200,000 living abroad, most in Holland. Approximately 31% of the people are Creole, that is, of predominantly African ancestry; 15% are Indonesians-Javanese; 2% are Chinese; 37% are East Indians whose ancestors came from India and Sri Lanka; 10% are Bush Negroes, also called Maroons. This last group is descended from escaped slaves. Some 5,000 Surinamese are Amerindians. Finally, Suriname has a small Jewish population.

Religions practiced in Suriname include the major Christina faiths, the largest being the Catholics, the Dutch Reformed Church and the Moravians. Hindu, Islam, Judaism, Confucianism, and animism are widely practiced.

On the whole these various racial, ethnic and religious groups have lived peacefully with one another. One is struck, for instance, by the location of a beautiful Moslem mosque next to a elegant old synagogue in downtown Paramaribo.

Nevertheless, as the Commission indicated in its first report on Suriname, the pre-1980 political parties for the most part centered along ethnic-racial lines rather than political belief. This proved to be the source of great national political frustration.

Two groups of Surinamese citizens have been somewhat neglected in the examination of human rights in that country. The are the Bush Negroes and the Amerindians.

The Bush Negroes belong to six tribes, the largest being the Djukas and the Saramakas, numbering about 20,000 people each. The other tribes are the Matawai, Aluku, Paramaka and Kwinti, numbering around 10,000 in total.

The special commission visited the Marron village of Drietabbeje inhabited by Djukas. The Saramakas are the most aggrieved given that a large portion of their traditional lands were flooded in 1965 when the Government, in conjunction with the Alcoa Aluminum Company, built a large dam and hydroelectric plant on the Saramaka River forcing some 6,000 Saramakas to relocate. Many have moved to the coast, principally to Paramaribo. 4/

The Amerindians of Suriname, descendents of the original inhabitants of the area, belong to seven tribal groups. The two largest tribes are the Caribs (43%) and the Arawaks (39%). The remaining smaller tribes are the Waiyana, Trio, Wayarikule, Wama and Akuliyo.5/ The special commission of the IACHR visited the Trio village of Tepoe during its recent on-site investigation.

It is estimated that 85% of the Surinamese population lives within 25 miles of Paramaribo.6/ The large majority of the population lives near the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

C. Cultural Situation

The cultural identity of the various sub-groups of Suriname´s population is proudly preserved and generally respected by members of different groups. Churches, temples, mosques, clubs, social organizations and ethnic restaurants abound and attest to the diversity of the people. Considerable integration is also evident. Intermarriage is common. The assimilation of some Maroons and to lesser extent some Amerindians is taking place, spurred in great measure by the difficult conditions of living in the interior and the economic attractions and opportunities available in the cities along the coast.

Dutch is the official language. In addition a patois called ¨talkie-talkie¨ is spoken almost universally. English is also commonly spoken and taught in all public schools. Moreover, the various ethnic groups discussed here have preserved their respective languages.

D. Educational Situation

Primary schools provide compulsory education for pupils in Suriname. Public education is free through the level of university training. Further discussion of the university situation can be found in Chapter VII which deals with freedom of expression.

Adult literacy in Suriname is variously estimated at 65%, 78.8%, or 81.2%. 7/

In 1984 the Government commenced a literacy program for children and adults called Alfa 84. Considerable criticism has been leveled at this effort on the ground that the content of the program is highly ideological.

The education of Maroons and Amerindians I provided by Moravian and Dutch Reformed and other religious missionaries, in cooperation with the Government.

E. Health and Welfare

Following the Dutch model inherited from colonial times, Suriname has an elaborate state health and welfare system. This includes public hospitals, clinics, homes for the elderly, the infirm, programs for children, etc.

Following these general introductory remarks, the Commission now will examine these various situations, as they exist in practice.

2. Evaluation of the Economic, Social and Cultural Situation

The economic situation in Suriname is grim. The national treasury is virtually empty and credits, investments and aid are almost non-existent. While to some extent this is the consequence of factors outside the control of the Government, in large measure it is self-inflicted in that it stems from human rights violations, both those that resulted in the deaths of the fifteen in December of 1982, as well as the continuing violation of the Surinamese people’s right to participate in their own governance through a democratically elected Government.

Despite these enormous problems, however, some headway is being made in this area. For instance, Siegfried Guilds, the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, has informed the special commission that 50 million guilders (out of a national budget of 700 million guilders) are spent on social projects.

The special commission visited several of these including one of a network of 21 day care centers established in 1983 for pre-school children organized and run by Mrs. Leeflang, wife of the Minister of Justice. The center visited by the special commission had excellent facilities including a nursery, kitchen, educational materials, playroom and outdoor playground. Tuition is payable by working parents on a graduated basis depending on the family’s income.

Another facility visited by the special commission was a home for the elderly. There the Director informed the special commission that the home had 360 residents, all of whom were poor and therefore paid no fees. The Director explained that this was the only Government-run home for the elderly. Other similar facilities were private and charged their residents for services. The Director also indicated that the capacity of the home is being expanded to house 450 persons. He explained that the buildings pre-dated the coup of 1980 but were not put into operation until 1981. He further stated that there is a waiting list of applicants wishing to take up residence in the home.

Another social project visited by the special commission was a leprosarium called the Ester Strickting House. Founded some 36 years ago, it is run by a foundation and has 500 patients. Family members also reside with the patients.

The foundation is subsidized primarily b the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. Several of the buildings are currently under renovation but the process has been slowed since the cut off of foreign aid.

The House has a staff of 22 nurses who work around the clock on three different shifts. There are also consulting physicians available.

The facility has a social hall, a kitchen and a total of 95 employees. The Director informed the special commission that there are between 80 and 100 new cases of leprosy per year in Suriname. As a result, the Home has expanded its staff and services since 1980, although the number of patients has remained the same.

As mentioned the Commission also visited a Bush Negro Village, Drietabbeje, located on the Maroni River in southern Suriname and an Amerindian village situated near the border with Brazil on the Tapahoni River.

Both villages are primitive by comparison with the standards of Paramaribo. Nevertheless, both had electric power, potable water, community meeting halls, health clinics and small school houses. Likewise, there were septic toilet systems in Drietabbeje. The river launches of the inhabitants were powered by gasoline engines indicating a certain level of affluence.

The special commission was told that shotguns were fast replacing bows and arrows for hunting purposes. The principal observation of the leaders of both groups had to do with the lack of employment opportunities for their people. A considerable number of the Bush Negroes work sporadically on the coast and later return to their villages. The contraction of the Surinamese economy, however, has meant fewer job opportunities. Both the Bush Negroes and the Amerindians receive regular welfare money from the Government. The amount has been increased in the last several years. Moreover, both groups appeared to enjoy a certain amount of local autonomy in directing their tribal affairs including local civil and criminal justice.

Education is of great concern to both the Bush Negroes as well as the Amerindians. The coordinator of the Government literacy program for the currently training more lay teachers for work in the interior but the traditional provision of education continues to rest in the hands of the missionaries. 8/


1/ Program Budget, Pan American Health Organization, 1986-1987. Pan American Health Organization, World Health Organization, May 1985.

2/ In his interview with the special commission of the IACHR on January 17, 1985 Lt. Col. Bouterse compalined bitterly of the Dutch cut off of aid. Subsequently, he threatened to take the Dutch Government to the International Court of Justice. To date this treat has not been carried out.

3/ United Nations, Economic Survey of Latin America, 1981. Santiago, Chile, 1983, p.717; and from Bureau of the Census, Suriname, 1982, quoted by Embassy of Suriname to the US.

4/ Sally and Richard Price, Afro-American Art of the Suriname Rain Forest, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1980; pp.19-20.

5/ Peter Kloos, the Maroni Riber Caribs of Suriname (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1971), pp.1-11; cited in Edward Dew, Difficult Flowering of Suriname, pp.4-5.

6/ ¨Suriname¨, Focus (The American Geographical Society), 21 (September 1970), p.5, cited in Dew, op.cit., p.12.

7/ Program Budget, Pan American Health Organization, 1984-1985; World Health Organization, April 1983, p. 489; Inter-American Development Bank, Economic and Social Progress in Latin America: Economic Integration, 1983, report, p. 380; 1980 Census, Suriname, quoted by Embassy of Suriname to the US.

8/ In this education is often conditioned on religious conversion to the faith of missionary teachers. This practice raises problems in terms of the social-religious fabric of the Bush Negro and Amerindians communities, sometimes setting children against parents and oftentimes resulting in the unavailability of formal education for people who otherwise could improve their prespects, but refuse to give up their tribal beliefs.


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