REPORT ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN SURINAME
1. On February 25th, 1980, a group of sixteen non-commissioned officers led a successful coup d'etat against the Republic of Suriname's democratically-elected government. Following their displacement of the de jure government, the coup leaders appointed a civilian administration and announced that elections would be held in October 1982. Despite the promised return to democratic rule, effective power was progressively and conspicuously centralized in the persons of the coup leaders who by virtue of their golpe had become the senior officers of the armed forces.
2. Decree No. C-64 of March 25, 1982, formalized inter alia the de facto centralization of power by providing that the "highest governing body" in Suriname would be the Central Executive Body whose composition is to be determined by "the Military Authority".
3. As the prospect of the early restoration of democracy receded, opposition to the government became increasingly intense. Among the more dramatic events was an attempted coup d'etat in March 1982 organized, apparently, by a former lieutenant in the armed forces, Surendre Rambocus. The coup attempt was suppressed and its leaders imprisoned after trial.
During the final months of 1982 opposition assumed the form of strikes organized by the largest labor federation, the Moederbond. Women's groups, religious organizations and students also held public protests to support demands primarily for elections and the restoration of democratic government. This domestic turbulence culminated in the events of December 8-10: arrests, executions and other acts discussed in this Report.
4. Commission action in this matter was precipitated by a formal complaint from Amnesty International, the human rights organization, contained in a cable which reached the Commission on December 10. The complaint referred to the summary execution of a number of Surinamese citizens. The Commission immediately cabled the pertinent parts of the complaint to the Government of Suriname and requested it to furnish information concerning "the procedures followed upon the arrest of these persons (named in the complaint) and details concerning other persons alleged to have been arrested."
5. On December 14th Suriname's military authorities released the names of fifteen persons who, they said, had been killed by security forces while trying to escape from custody. The great majority of the fifteen were well-known civilians, leaders o the coalition demanding a return to civilian, democratic rule. Four were lawyers who had represented the principal defendants in the trials following the attempted March coup.
6. In the course o the following ten days the Commission received requests from different organizations of Surinamese citizens for an investigation of these killings. On December 21st the Commission again cabled the Government of Suriname, this time to solicit details regarding the circumstance in which he deaths had occurred. On behalf of his government, Mr. Glenn B. Sankatsing, the acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, responded on January 11, 1983, in the following terms:
CONCERNING REPORTS OF EXECUTIONS IN SURINAME I WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT THOSE REPORTS DO NOT REFLECT THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER. IN AN OFFICIAL STATEMENT OF THE MILITARY AUTHORITY IT IS STATED THAT ON 8 DECEMBER 1982 A NUMBER OF PERSONS DETAINED FOR THEIR INVOLVEMENT IN ACTIVITIES TO OVERTHROW THE GOVERNMENT THROUGH VIOLENT MEANS WERE KILLED IN AN UNFORTUNATE ACCIDENT AS A RESULT OF THEIR ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE CUSTODY. THE NATIONAL ARMY AND THE GOVERNMENT WILL SEE TO IT THAT SUCH OCCURRENCES BE PREVENTED IN THE FUTURE.
7. In accordance with its procedures the Commission transmitted the Government's response to the various complainants and requested their observations. Amnesty International, he original complainant, responded in early February with a detailed rebuttal of the government's contention that the killings occurred in the course of an attempted escape.
8. On February 3, prior to receipt of this rebuttal, the Executive Secretary o the Commission, acting pursuant to instructions, conveyed to the Republic of Suriname's Permanent Representative to the OAS the Commission's deeply-felt concern about the human rights situation in his country. In a note dated the following day the Government extended an invitation to the Commission to conduct an on-site observation. The note read as follows:
Dear Mr. Executive Secretary,
Referring to your telephone conversation of February 3, 1983, in which you expressed, on behalf of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, its deeply felt concern about the human rights situation in Suriname, I have the honor to inform you as follows.
I informed His Excellency, Dr. Harvey H. Naarendorp about the concern expressed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, upon which he reiterated the desire of his Government that International Organizations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visit Suriname in order to examine the prevailing situation on human rights in loco.
In this connection I would like to refer to the statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs during a special meeting of the Group of Latin American Countries in the U.N. on February 1, 1983, in which he also expressed the willingness of the government of Suriname to receive visits from above-mentioned Organizations. The Minister of Foreign Affairs also suggested that the visit of the Inter/American Commission on Human Rights take place after his return to Suriname on the 25th of February.
Accept, Mr. Executive Secretary, the assurances of my highest consideration.
9. On February 9, 1983, the Executive Secretary acknowledged receipt of the invitation and sent the following note to the Government of Suriname:
I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your Note No. 262 of February 4, 1983, in which your Excellency's Government invites the Commission to visit Suriname in order to examine the human rights situation in loco.
This information will be brought to the attention of the Commission, which will consider this item on the agenda of its 59th meeting to be held in April, at which time it shall propose to your Excellency's Government a possible time for the visit.
Please accept, Excellency, he renewed assurances of my highest consideration.
Edmundo Vargas Carreño
10. Considering the urgency of the situation, the Executive Secretary consulted with the Commission and on March 7, 1983, sent a cable to Prime Minister Alibux, requesting the consent of the Government of Suriname to conduct the on-site observation from March 18-20, 1983.
11. By note dated March 10, 1983, Mr. Henrich Texel, the interim Representative of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Suriname to the OAS, informed the Executive Secretary of the Commission "that the suggested time table for the visit of the Commission to Suriname is not convenient". The note stated further that: "The Government of Suriname suggests that the visit of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights take place in May or June 1983."
12. By letter dated March 16, 1983, the Executive Secretary acknowledged receipt of the note of the Government of Suriname and stated that this information would be brought to the attention of the Chairman of the Commission and that during its next meeting to be held in April, the Commission would propose a date within the suggested time period.
13. At its fifty-ninth session held in April 1983, the Commission considered the invitation of the Government of Suriname and appointed doctors Andrés Aguilar and Francisco Bertrand Galindo and Professor Tom J. Farer, members of the Commission, to serve on a Special Commission to conduct the on-site observation in the territory of Suriname. The Commission also proposed that the visit occur in the latter half of June, a proposal which was formally accepted by the Government at the end of May.
14. Since a meeting of the Commission was already scheduled for the second half of June, the first period the Government of Suriname found convenient for a visit by the Commission, the Commission had to choose between a relatively brief visit and postponement. In light both of the Commission's sense of urgency and of the fact that virtually all the alleged violations of human rights were supposed to have occurred or be occurring in Suriname's capital city, Paramaribo, the Commission chose the first option on the assumption that even a brief visit would give it a valuable opportunity to appreciate the real situation in Paramaribo. Events bore out the accuracy of this prediction.
Under the chairmanship of Dr. Andrés Aguilar, its most senior member,
the Special Commission conducted an in
loco observation from June 20 to the 24th.
It was assisted by the Executive Secretary, Dr. Edmundo Vargas Carreño,
and the following technical personnel: Dr.
Ernst Brea, Dr. Christina Cerna, Ms. Diana Decker and Professor Claudio Grossman
as technical consultant and interpreter. The
Commission also enjoyed the full cooperation of the Director of the OAS office
in Paramaribo, Dr. Felipe Sanfuentes, and his staff.
16. The Secretariat of the Commission, on the basis of the complaints received and other information at its disposition, prepared information and legal analyses for the use of the Commission members during the on-site visit. The Commission, in Paramaribo, established offices in a centrally-located hotel which was conveniently accessible to all persons who wished to testify before the Commission and also for the Commission's private meetings with persons from whom it sought information.
17. Members of the Special Commission's staff met with officials of the National Commission for Guidance and Information under the Chairmanship of Mr. Phillip Akkrum. The Government had designated the National Commission as its liaison with the IACHR and as the governmental organ which would facilitate the work of the IACHR in every way possible. The Commission's lawyers explained the general procedures followed by the IACHR during a visit, presented a list of officials with whom the Special Commission would like to meet, confirmed the location of the various centers of detention and presented a press-release for transmission and publication over the government-control-led radio, television stations and newspaper.
18. With the successful conclusion of these preliminary matters, the Special Commission began a series of meetings with government officials and private citizens. Rather atypically, in light of the Commission's long experience with observations in loco, the overwhelming majority of private citizens were reluctant to have their names mentioned in this Report. Naturally the Commission has respected their request for anonymity.
19. The principal government officials with whom the Special Commission met were Lieutenant Colonel Desiré Bouterse, Commander of the Armed Forces; the President of the Republic, Mr. Lachmipersad Frederik Ramdat Misier; the acting Prime Minister and Minister of Planning and Finance, Mr. Winston Caldeira (the Commission was informed that Prime Minister Errol Alibux was absent from the Capital); the Minister of Justice, Dr. Frank Leeflang; the Attorney General, Dr. R.M. Reeder; the President of the Supreme Court, Dr. R.E. Oosterling; and the Director of the National Information Service, Mr. Dick De Bie. Pertinent points arising from the Special Commission's dialogue with these officials are described and analyzed in the succeeding chapters of this Report.
20. In general, it is fair to say that the very open and candidly expressed views of Lieutenant Colonel Bouterse, Mr. Caldeira and Mr. De Bie raised serious doubts about the Government's intention of bringing Suriname into closer compliance with the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man by which the Government of Suriname, like other member states of the OAS which have not ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, is bound. For example, both Lieutenant Colonel Bouterse and Mr. Caldeira while condemning the old parliamentary system and declaring their intention to construct new institutions for the expression of popular will, offered no plan or timetable for achieving this end. Three years have passed since the present regime assumed power, the indefinite prolongation of non-democratic rule cannot be reconciled with the obligations of all member states to maintain democratic systems o government in order to safeguard the right of political participation and all other rights.
As the Commission has stated on previous occasions, the right to political participation leaves room for a wide variety of forms of government; there are many constitutional alternatives as regards the degree of centralization of the powers of the state or the election and attributes of the organs responsible for the exercise of those powers. However, a democratic framework is an essential element for establishment of a political society where human values can be fully realized.
The right to political participation makes possible the right to organize parties and political associations, which through open discussion and ideological struggle, can improve the social level and economic circumstances of the masses and prevent a monopoly on power by any one group or individual. At the same time it can be said that democracy is a unifying link among the nations of this Hemisphere.
21. Similarly, with respect to freedom of the press, the Commander of the Armed forces, the acting Prime Minister and Director of the National Information Services seemed insensitive to the absence of diversity in the communication media, there now being but one private newspaper and a state monopoly of radio and television. As far as the Special Commission could tell, no effort has been made to insulate the state radio and television from direct political supervision. In De Bie's view the situation prevailing prior to the events of December 1982, a situation characterized by the existence of several newspapers in private hands and various private radio stations, created only a façade of diversity while in reality representing the views of a very narrow range of people. The media, he said, should serve all the people. And everyone should have access and be able to participate in ownership. There would not, he assured us, be any return to the past in so far as the media were concerned. In response to a question of the Commission he said that the long-range plans of the government for the media were still being formulated.
22. A final general point, one that will be developed in the chapter on the Right to Life, is in connection with the killings which occurred last December. Lieutenant Colonel Bouterse insisted that they must be placed in the context of our attempted coups against the present government and ongoing conspiracies involving the intelligence agencies of foreign states. Nevertheless, both he and other officials conceded that the killings were excesses by which they appeared to mean that the killings could not be justified under the legal system of the country or under the law of the Hemisphere. No claim was made that the killings could be justified as a legitimate effort to prevent the escape of properly detained persons.
23. In addition to conducting interviews of officials and private persons, the Special Commission inspected two detention facilities: The penitentiary of Santo Boma and Fort Zeelandia, the latter being the site of the December killings and of the death of Major Roy Horb, former second in command of the country's armed forces and of the "comando" which led the coup d'etat of 1980. At the penitentiary, the Special Commission inspected the facilities and interviewed a number of prisoners charged with or convicted of crimes against the state. At Fort Zeelandia the Commission had an interview with a senior officer of the Military Police. Under existing decrees they are able to exercise the same jurisdiction as the regular police. It also interviewed four detained soldiers who had once served as bodyguards for Major Horb and it examined the cell in which he was found hanged allegedly by an act of suicide.
24. During the period of the observation, the Government of Suriname expeditiously satisfied every request of the Commission for assistance in carrying out the terms of its mandate.