Press Release

IACHR Expresses Deep Concern over Blocking of Trial for Grave Human Rights Violations in Suriname

August 2, 2016

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María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Office
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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its deep concern with respect to measures taken by President Dési Bouterse of Suriname in June of 2016 to block the resumption of a trial for grave human rights violations in which he is among those accused. 

The IACHR closely monitored the human rights situation in Suriname during the military dictatorship, and published a series of reports documenting grave human rights violations, including massacres.  These massacres include the emblematic case of the killing of 15 prominent citizens at Fort Zeelandia on December 8, 1982. The UN Human Rights Committee also established the violations of the right to life in the case. In addition, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued judgements related to grave human rights violations perpetrated during that period, on the Moiwana Community case (issued June 15, 2005) and Aloeboetoe et al (issued December 4, 1991).

Years later, in 2007, steps were taken to initiate trial proceedings, but these were halted when Congress passed an amnesty law in 2012.  As the IACHR indicated in a press release issued at that time, that law sought “to consolidate immunity for human rights violations committed during the military era (1982-1992) in Suriname, and to remove the exception in the 1992 Amnesty Law that applies to crimes against humanity and war crimes.”  The Inter-American Commission underlined “that amnesty laws related to serious human rights violations are incompatible with international human rights obligations, as such laws keep States from investigating and punishing the perpetrators.” 

In late 2015, the High Court ruled that proceedings must resume.  On June 9, 2016, the Military Court seized of the case reportedly ruled that the amnesty law was unlawful, opening the possibility to proceed with the trial. 

However, media reports indicate that President Bouterse rejected that ruling, and that in late June he addressed the National Assembly in a closed session to announce that he was invoking Article 148 of the Constitution which provides that the government sets general prosecution policy, and in the interest of matters of state security, it may give the attorney general instructions regarding prosecution.  Reports indicate that this is the mechanism the president used to again halt progress in the trial against him. 

The Inter-American Commission reiterates that Suriname, as an OAS member state and a party to the American Convention on Human Rights, has committed itself to investigate, prosecute and punish serious human rights violations such as this case, known as the December killings.  The December killings have remained in impunity through the application of a variety of mechanisms which are incompatible with the State’s international obligations.

The Inter-American Commission and Court have established that an amnesty law is not a justification for failing to investigate and ensure access to justice for human rights violations.  Nor may a state investigate and prosecute human rights violations in the military justice system, as it lacks the required guarantees of independence and efficacy.  The measure most recently announced, in which one of the accused instructs the prosecution to cease the proceedings, continues to deny justice to the family members who have been seeking it since 1982, and denies clarification to Surinamese society.  The fact that the Constitutional Court called for in the constitution has yet to be established represents yet another deficiency in access to justice.  

Laws and other measures that prevent the due investigation and prosecution of serious human rights violations are incompatible with inter-American human rights obligations. Following the development and consolidation of inter-American standards in favor of justice and against impunity, many states in the region have reviewed and invalidated the effects of their amnesty laws and similar measures in order to comply with obligations established in the inter-American system.

The Inter-American Commission urges the authorities of Suriname to take all actions necessary to comply with its obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish the serious human rights violations committed during the military dictatorship, and particularly those committed on December 8, 1982.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 108/16