REPORT ON THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN SURINAME
THE RIGHT TO LIFE AND THE RIGHT TO PERSONAL SECURITY
1. The domestic legal system of the Republic of Suriname, as well as international normative standards to which the Republic of Suriname is subject, all recognize the individual's right to life and personal security.
2. Article 1 of General Decree A-11 establishing the Statute of the Basic Rights and Obligations of the Surinamese People, promulgated by the Military Authority on March 25, 1982, provides as follows:
1. Everyone has a right to physical, psychic and moral integrity.
2. No one may be subjected to tortures or to debasing or inhuman treatment punishment.
Article I of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, to which Suriname is subject by virtue of its membership in the Organization of American States, provides that "Every human being has the right to life, liberty and the security of his person".
Suriname is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 6 of the Covenant provides:
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.
3. The Commission's inquiry concerning the Rights to Life and Personal Security in the Republic of Suriname centered around the events of December 1982, the detentions and executions referred to in the introduction. Considering that there are countries in this Hemisphere where thousands of people have been massacred, the deaths of fifteen citizens, however great a human tragedy, might seem a relatively minor event in the contemporary history of human rights delinquencies. But when this event is placed within its proper context, it acquires added significance.
The resident population of the Republic of Suriname is approximately 350,000. The majority of the country's inhabitants live in and around the capital, Paramaribo. Paramaribo is, moreover, the center of political and intellectual life and of the means of communications. Every important organization and group is headquartered there. On the other hand, the city of Paramaribo is sufficiently small that any dramatic event occurring in it sends shock waves throughout the community and, again because of the importance and centrality of Paramaribo, throughout the entire country.
But even in a country with a very large population and many important urban centers, the sudden seizure and killing of fifteen prominent citizens--the head of its most important trade union federation, the president of the national Bar Association, the owner of a leading radio station, the dean of economics at the national university and other persons of national stature--would shock the entire nation and have profound consequences for its political and social life.
4. As noted in the Introduction, shortly after the events in question, on December 14th to be precise, Suriname's military authorities released the names of fifteen persons who, they said, had been shot dead by security forces while attempting to escape custody. The names of the fifteen deceased and their occupations are as follows:
lawyers who had defended the soldiers accused of participating in
b) Lt. Surendre Rambocus - who had led the March 1982 coup attempt against Bouterse and sentenced by a military court in November 1982 to 12 years imprisonment;
c) Cyrill Daal - the president of the Moederbond, Suriname's largest trade union federation;
d) Bram Behr - a journalist with the communist weekly MOKRO;
e) Lesley Rahmen - a trade union leader and journalist for de Ware Tijd (The Real Truth) newspaper;
f) Josef Slagveer - journalist, Director of Informa News Agency;
g) Andre Kamperveen - owner of ABC radio, former Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture, and Vice President of FIFA (International Federation of Soccer Players);
h) Frank Wyjngaarde - journalist, ABC radio announcer and a Dutch citizen;
i) Robby Sohansingh - a Paramaribo businessman;
j) Gerard Lecke - Dean of Economics at the University of Suriname;
k) Suchrim Oemrawsingh - Former Member of Parliament. Member of the predominantly Hindustani opposition party, VPS. Brother of Bal Oemrawsingh, a lecturer at the Suriname Medical School, found dead after the coup attempt of March 1982;
l) Sgt. Jiwan Sheombar - Accused of involvement in March 1982 coup attempt. Sentenced by a military court in November 1982 to eight years imprisonment.
5. Once the Commission decided to undertake a general report on the situation of human rights in Suriname, it began systematically accumulating data about the events of December, the circumstances out of which they arose, and their aftereffects. Information coming into the hands of the Commission from a variety of sources portrayed a pattern of events immediately preceding the killing of the fifteen from which it was possible to imply a decision at the highest levels of the armed forces to eliminate effective opposition. Particularly significant in this respect was evidence of participation by government troops on the night of December 7 in the destruction by fire of the headquarters of the Moederbond, two private radio stations (ABC and Radika) and the offices of an anti-government newspaper, Vrije Stem. The Commission also received information from responsible sources that the bodies of the fifteen showed signs of atrocious torture: broken jaws, arms and legs; smashed-in teeth; in one case a dislocated hip; and other signs of terrible maltreatment.
6. In order to corroborate this data, the Commission authorized Dr. David Padilla, Assistant Executive Secretary of the Commission, to visit the Netherlands and take testimony from relevant persons including those whom had seen the cadavers.
7. In Leiden, Holland, Dr. Padilla deposed a number of family members of the deceased who asked that their names not appear in this Report lest their relatives and friends in Suriname be subject to possible reprisals. In essence these witnesses testified to the following:
a. Between 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. on December 8, contingents of security forces consisting of not less than 3 soldiers arrived at their homes and either knocked on the door or fired weapons into the air or at their dwellings.
b. Some of the security forces were uniformed and others wore civilians clothes. All were armed.
c. No arrest warrants were presented.
d. Generally victims were allowed to dress and were told they were wanted for questioning by the highest authorities at the military headquarters called Fort Zeelandia.
e. At least two guards were left at the homes of the victims until dawn to assure that family members were unable to notify friends and relatives of the events that were taking place.
f. The phones in the homes of the arrested persons were all disconnected by security agents.
g. In at least one instance, a family member was told by a security guard left at the home that the next time she would see her husband, it would either be "in heaven or hell".
h. The family members never saw the fifteen victims alive again with the exception of Mr. Slagveer who made a public "confession" with Mr. Kamperveen on that state television. Both claimed to have participated in a coup attempt. Later he repeated his "confession" on the state radio station.
i. On December 9, 1982, Col. Bouterse appeared on television and explained that the fifteen who were all involved in a coup attempt had been shot while trying to escape en masse.
j. On December 10, 1983, the families of the victims surrounded the morgue of the Academy Hospital in Paramaribo and there identified the bodies of the deceased.
k. All of the dead were covered with sheets. Family members were allowed to lower the sheets to reveal the faces, throats and upper shoulders of the deceased.
l. Different victims manifested different wounds. In general, the witnesses distinguished between bruises and swellings that indicated that the victims had been severely beaten. They had gunshot wounds that were small, deep and bloody and left larger exit holes on the sides and backs of the heads. All of the latter wounds indicate that the victims were shot from close range and from the front.
m. Dr. Paulus Baidjoe, a physician currently employed as a police doctor in Holland, saw all the bodies in the mortuary on December 10. As a relative of one of the deceased, he was permitted to view the bodies. Dr. Baidjoe, who consented to having his name used in this Report, testified that in addition to the wounds caused by beating and bullets, he observed that the sheets covering the cadavers adhered to the dead bodies at numerous small points due to dried bloodstains. His opinion as a police medical examiner is that they evidenced bullet wounds caused by shots made at the front of the bodies at close range.
n. Dr. Baidjoe noted that one of the cadavers evidenced a dislocated hip given the angle at which the leg was twisted and in light of its shortness compared to the other leg. His conclusion was that the cadaver had been subjected to a powerful blow of a blunt instrument which dislocated his hip.
o. Funerals at various cemeteries were conducted on Monday, December 13. None of the cadavers were embalmed. No autopsies were performed. The tombs were guarded by police and soldiers until December 17.
In addition to the general description of the wounds on the bodies of the deceased mentioned earlier, the following specific conditions appeared on the various cadavers:
John Baboeram, lawyer. He was severely and brutally beaten in the face. Thus he had a broken upper jaw, almost all the teeth except one--on the upper right--were smashed in, and his lips were crushed. He had a horizontal would across the forehead. He also had a bullet wound on the left beside the nose, which had been covered with plasters later. Also wound, cuts on the cheeks, and bleeding in the face. One source reports a cut in the tongue.
Bram Behr, journalist, director of the weekly MOKRO. He had wounds in the face and bullet wounds in chest and feet.
Cyrill Daal, president of the biggest union in Suriname, the Mother Union. He had bullet wounds in the abdomen and several wounds in the face. Two sources reported eye injuries in general; one source mentions Daal's name in this connection. Two sources mention that someone had his scrotum shot off; one--another source--reports having seen that Daal was castrated. One source reports fractures of arms and legs.
Kenneth Gonsalves, dean of the Suriname Bar. He had injuries in the face. In particular, he had a broken nose. One source reports having found a dozen bullets in the chest region.
André Kamperveen, businessman, former Minister of Culture and Sports, owner of radio station ABC. He had a swollen face and injuries to the jaw, probably a dislocation. He had some 18 bullets in the chest. A broken thigh was also reported. One source reports a broken arm. Another source reports a shot in the right temple.
Gerard Lecke, dean of the social and economic faculty of the University of Suriname. He had a hemorrhage in the face. One source reports bullets in the chest.
Suchrin Oemrawsingh, lecturer at the University of Suriname, director of a computer center. He had a reasonably sound face under the circumstances. He had a small hole in the right cheek. He had a large hole in the right temple with some hair hanging over it. Later this was closed with a plaster.
Leslie Rahman, journalist with the press agency CPS. He had tears and cuts in the face. He had lumps on the forehead. One source reports having observed that strips of skin had been torn from the thigh.
Surindre Ranmbocus, military officer, condemned for his part in the attempted coup of March 1982 to 12 years in prison. He had open tears in the face and small tears in the lips and above the left eye. He was riddled with bullets from the left foot to the neck and across the middle. He had a swollen face.
Harold Riedewald, lawyer. He had a bullet through the right temple and blood marked severed injuries to the left neck. One source reports dozens of bullets in the chest.
Jiwansingh Sheombar, soldier, condemned for his part in the attempted coup of March 1982. He had a swollen face. His face was very dark in color due to the many hematomata. He had a severe jaw injury on the right side. He also had a bullet wound from the neck through the head and a bullet would in the skull. The pattern of a cross was drawn with bullets in the area of the chest and abdomen.
Josef Slagveer, journalist, owner of the press agency INFORMA. He had a swollen face with many hematomata, especially on the left side. He also had a jaw injury. Somradj (Robbie) Sohansing, businessman. He had injuries in the face. In particular, his teeth were knocked in and he had a fracture of the cheekbone. He also had bullet wounds in the area of the chest and abdomen.
Frank Wijngaarde, journalist for ABC, a Netherlander of Suriname origin. He had a broken jaw. His teeth were knocked in. He had bullets in the chest and shot wounds in the face.1
8. During its observation in loco the Commission was able to secure additional testimony confirming that the fifteen were subjected to severe torture prior to their execution. The sources of this testimony insisted on anonymity. On the basis of other evidence and their perception of the general situation the members of the Special Commission concluded that the request did no reflect adversely on the veracity of the testimony.
9. In its initial explanation of the killings the Government and the armed forces appeared to justify them as the result of a lawful effort to prevent the escape of properly detained persons. Subsequently, it appeared to adopt a variant according to which the killings occurred as a consequence of a few nervous soldiers mistakenly concluding that the detainees were about to attempt an escape. But in conversations with members of the Special Commission during the observation in loco, neither civilian officials nor Lieutenant Colonel Bouterse urged a strictly juridical justification for the killings. Rather they seemed determined to show that the killings were an unfortunate excess mitigated by the surrounding circumstances, namely plots against the revolution. The following excerpt from the Commission's long and frank exchange of views with Lieutenant Colonel Bouterse is illustrative:
There were four serious attempts to end the Revolution and we have managed to frustrate these efforts… In the various attempts to achieve a coup d'etat and frustrate the revolutionary process, we always found ourselves in a difficult situation because one cannot plan and the laws do not allow, action to prevent or avoid this sort of thing. On the 11th and 12th of March 1982, the entire Membre Boekoe barracks were occupied. In reality there was total war against us. Even though we knew they were conspiring against us, they surprised us. After the four serious attempts in which we not only risked our lives but also the Revolution we decided that this could not go on. We knew of their plans for destabilization and civil disobedience after which the CIA was to intervene. They tricked the workers who took to the streets, they tried or were able to lead the students into the streets, they even used the hospitals for their ends, and they had the strong support of the communications media: the press, television and radio. They all collaborated. It is very interesting to re-read and re-listen to the news and articles prior to December in that period. They even said we were dead and that the Revolution was finished. They thought they could count on the help of the CIA and they could take whatever actions they wanted because the CIA was going to arrange it all. This time we did not decide to wait until someone took out a shotgun, aimed and fired. In truth it has been a fact of the Revolution versus a counter-revolution. Now that the reaction has been defeated and they no longer have support to rely upon, now they say we have gone into the streets and homes and taken out fifteen persons, and without further ado, killed them. That is, that we have selected fifteen persons and that we have killed them just like that. But they don't say what would have happened if these persons and all the reactionaries would have achieved their purposes and all the progressive forces were to be killed. Can tell you that this Revolution has shown that it is not a bloody one, that it does not aim to devour, that it is not a cruel Revolution. When we took power on February 25, 1980, there were radical leftist groups that urged us to kill all the ministers and all the conservatives. Now we can say that all of these people, the ministers, they occupy positions within the Revolution. In the different attempts to frustrate the Revolution the people often said that we had to kill the persons who had tried to frustrate the Revolution. That we should kill them. We have always arrested those persons and delivered them into the hands of justice. In other words no one can say that this Revolution is a cruel Revolution, a bloody one. If a soldier here takes up arms and abuses the people, he is in trouble. But not because we must permit mercenaries or any other person to act as he pleases. Of course, we hope that December's events won't repeat themselves because we too need peace and tranquility to work on behalf of the people. You can see that it isn't the Revolution that invites the mercenaries here, but if they come, we shall have to defend the Revolution.
10. That a coup was attempted in March 1982 is a matter of historical record. The Government did not, however, offer the Commission any evidence that the persons executed were involved in an armed conspiracy. Lieutenant Rambocus and Sergeant Sheombar were long-term prisoners as a consequence of their participation in the March coup. The other persons executed were leaders of the open opposition to the perpetuation of non-democratic rule. But of course, even if they had been involved in some clandestine effort to overthrow existing power holders by force of arms, it would not justify their seizure, their subjection to atrocious torture and their summary execution. As the Commission has stated on many occasions and as the General Assembly of the OAS has formally resolved, nothing can justify the application of terrorist methods.
11. On January 30, 1983, Mayor Roy Horb, hitherto second-in-command of the Armed Forces, was arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate Lieutenant Colonel Bouterse. Five days later the government announced that Major Horb had committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell. During its observation in loco the Commission inquired into the circumstances of Major Horb's death. It interviewed his bodyguards, all of whom testified that they knew nothing about the matter since at the time of the incident they had been detained in another part of fort Zeelandia. The Commission interviewed an official of the military police who controls the detention facilities at the Fort, and it inspected the cell in which Major Horb had been held. Neither the observation of his cell, nor the interviews nor any other activities during the visit to Suriname produced evidence tending either to support or to undermine the Government's assertion that Major Horb died by his own hand.
In formal testimony presented to the Commission on April 14, 1983, some two months prior to the observation in loco, Mr. Henk Chin A Sen, former President and Prime Minister of Suriname and now, while in exile, serving as President of the Council for the Liberation of Suriname, stated that Major Horb had called him at the time of the killings and had denied responsibility for them.
12. On the basis of testimony it received and of its own observations the Special Commission could not avoid the conclusion that the December massacre-reinforced by such measures as an expansion of the armed forces, inauguration of a popular militia and the announcement of legislation threatening criminal penalties for the dissemination of literature deemed subversive--has utterly silenced those sectors of the population opposed to continuation of a non-democratic government with power centralized in the hands of Lieutenant Colonel Desire Bouterse, and has in general created an environment marked by intense fear. This environment itself undermines whatever institutional protection may still exist for the right to physical integrity and the functionally associated right to due process of law.
Effective organizations of the legal profession no longer exist in Suriname. The victims Eddy Hoost, a former Minister of Justice, and Kenneth Gonsalves, head of the Suriname Bar Association, as well as John Baboeram and Harold Riedewald were all lawyers. In defending the perpetrators of the March 1982 coup attempt they had argued in court that one could not be guilty of a crime in attempting to overthrow an illegitimate government, that is, one which had seized power by force of arms. It appears that at the present time no lawyer will defend a person accused of crimes against state security. Illustrative of the problem is the case of Mr. Hardjoprajitno. Mr. Hardjoprajitno, in detention since January 30, 1983, is accused of having cooperated in a murder plot with Major Horb against Lieutenant Colonel Bouterse. Major Horb and Mr. Hardjoprajitno, were respectively numbers 2 and 4 in the chain of command in the 16-man group which seized power on 25 February 1980.2 The family and friends of Mr. Hardjoprajitno have asked seven lawyers to defend him. All have refused alleging the lack of guarantees. When one lawyer did agree to defend him, he was reportedly threatened. He did, in any event, withdraw from the case.
13. In cases such as this one where, after an exhaustive evaluation of the evidence, the Commission is absolutely convinced that grave violations of the rights to life and personal security have occurred, it normally follows with a recommendation for investigation of the crimes committed by public officials, the prosecution of those responsible and their punishment with all the rigor of the law. It has tended to make such a recommendation even after concluding that the highest officials of the government were directly or indirectly responsible.
Persons familiar with the Commission's reports and the legal tradition of the hemisphere recognize that a recommendation for investigation, prosecution and punishment made in those circumstances is, n reality, an appeal to the conscience of the persons responsible, an implicit condemnation of their behavior, and a declaration of the moral responsibility of future governments to take measures which as a practical matter are precluded so long as the perpetrators of state terror remain in office. The Commission recognizes, however, that non-lawyers may find a certain inconsistency between the conclusion that the highest or at least most powerful officials of government are responsible for grave violations of human rights and the recommendation that the government, which as a practical matter is those officials, should prosecute and punish the responsible persons.